At 87, Bob Hope, probably America's best-known comedian, stars in his own television specials several times a year. Johnny Carson, the acknowledged king of late-night television for nearly three decades, shows no sign of retiring despite his 65 years. George Burns recently celebrated his 95th birthday with a public performance in Las Vegas. Angela Lansbury, 65, acclaimed star of stage and screen, enjoys success on her long-running television series, "Murder, She Wrote." Jazz virtuosos Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter, ages 74 and 83, respectively, continue to perform for appreciative and ever-younger audiences.

This trend toward late-life artistic accomplishment is nowhere more evident than in the career of entertainer Frank Sinatra. Sinatra's concerts still sell out, and he has begun a yearlong concert tour, the pace of which might prove challenging to much younger performers. His records continue to be in demand, spurred by the recent release of several commemorative editions. A weekly radio program featuring his music, old and new, is syndicated throughout the country. He celebrated his 75th birthday with a television special and was presented with the Society of Singers award for lifetime achievement.Today, in a youth-dominated entertainment industry, what accounts for the growing prominence of older entertainers? Actually, the visibility and public appreciation enjoyed by many older performers are not new. In recent years, many who were renowned in the arts sustained and grew in their talent as they aged. Among their ranks were conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein; artists Pablo Picasso and Georgia O'Keeffe; musician Benny Goodman; and singer-actors Mary Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

Besides entertaining us, the many talented older performers remind us that the creative spirit knows no age limit. It can be nurtured in later life, as well as in youth. Veteran performers serve as role models for young and old alike, teaching us new ways to think about aging.

They also reflect America's changing demographics. Today, there are more older Americans than ever before, both in number and proportion of the total population. Also, more people are retiring earlier and staying active longer. Their sheer number means they play a stronger role in shaping entertainment tastes and preferences.

Finally, through the mass media, older performers serve as common reference points for people of all ages. They connect the generations, providing a vital link to the past and a sense of continuity in uncertain times. In so doing, they influence our culture and everyone in it. - Sandra Risdon

QUESTION: My husband, a retired college president, has dementia. I am his sole companion and caregiver. Often I feel as though we are prisoners of each other. What can I do?

ANSWER: Over time, family caregivers for dementia victims tend to become isolated and to isolate themselves. Many limit their social activities because of their loved ones' unpredictable behavior. Often caregivers believe they are the only ones nurturing their disabled family member. Yet studies show that the ability to cope with caring for a person with dementia depends in part on the number and quality of the caregiver's social interactions and the support he or she receives from others. With this in mind, you should actively seek help for yourself. Try to view caregiving as a responsibility that is better shared.

Consider enrolling your husband in an adult day-care program. Also consider using in-home respite services, in which a staff member or trained volunteer comes to your home to care for your husband. Either option would give you time for yourself.

Try to identify family members, friends and neighbors who can help ease your burden. Think about the types of support you need most. For example, do you need help with cooking, cleaning or shopping? Emotional support? Someone to stay with your husband while you run errands? Help with handling legal and financial matters? Discuss your situation with supportive relatives and friends and find out which tasks they can help you with, how much time they can give and what you can expect from them generally.

The Alzheimer's Association publishes booklets and pamphlets for family caregivers. Its local chapters can refer you to helpful services and support groups. For more information, write to the Alzheimer's Association, 70 East Lake St., Chicago, IL 60601 or call toll-free (800) 621-0379 (in Illinois, call (800) 572-6037).