Last Updated: August 29, 2018
Whether food is spoiled, the mail is piling up or something just seems out of the ordinary, it’s important to be aware of the signs that an aging parent needs help.
Sometimes age sneaks up on everyone. Dad and Mom may have seemed themselves the last time you visited, whether a month — or even a year — has passed. Mental and physical health decline often surprises family members, especially if parents or senior loved ones seemed fine on the last visit. The key is to be aware of the small problems or signs that something may be wrong so that your family has an inkling of health decline and can properly prepare for the future.
A Place for Mom expert and geriatric psychologist, Dr. Melissa Henston, provides some guidance on how to spot the signs your aging parent needs help and offers tips on how to get your senior loved one the help they need.
Does Your Aging Parent Need Help? Look for These Signs
Aging parents and their children are often in denial that there is a problem. “It’s hard for parents to admit that they need help and no one wants to lose their independence,” notes Henston. “But daily living tasks sometimes get to be too much as we age and it’s important for family members and loved ones to step up and address the problem when this happens — even if it is painful. The problems will not go away and usually need to be addressed in a timely manner.”
The burden often falls on the family to recognize the signs that an aging parent might need help with daily living tasks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your senior loved one has to go to assisted living or a nursing home, but they may need some extra help. If they’re not willing to admit it, there are signs that your aging parent needs help.
According to Dr. Henston, you can spot problems as soon as you drive up to your senior loved one’s house:
“There are a bunch of warning signs that are easy to spot. For example, the exterior of the house has peeling paint or the driveway isn’t shoveled or the walkway isn’t treated. Once you enter the home, mail is piled up and newspapers are still in plastic wrap. Maybe the house isn’t as clean as normal or has an odor. You can usually tell when something is ‘off’.”
Since a health crisis can catch everyone involved off guard and escalate quickly, it’s important to not ignore signs that something may be wrong with an aging parent.
Ideally, families will have conversations with their children or loved ones about getting their affairs in order and end of life care well in advance of having any issues, but here are some signs to be cognizant of when visiting a senior loved one:
- Bounced checks, calls from collections and late payment notices.
- Broken appliances.
- Changes in mood or extreme mood swings.
- Cluttered, dirty and/or disorganized house.
- Confusion and uncertainty when performing once-familiar tasks.
- Depressed or low energy temperament.
- Disheveled clothing.
- Expired/spoiled groceries that don’t get thrown away.
- Forgetting to take medications.
- House and yard need care/maintenance.
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies.
- Missing important appointments.
- Poor diet or weight loss.
- Poor personal hygiene.
- Trouble getting up from a seated position.
- Unexplained bruising.
- Unexplained dents or scratches on the car.
If happiness or health seems to be compromised, it’s time to have a conversation about problems, whether it’s finding in-home care, a retirement community or a senior living community. It’s important to find the right care options for each unique family situation.
Dr. Henston emphasizes the importance of noting anything out of character or outside of normal behavior as there are ways to improve the quality of life if independent living in the family home is no longer working.
She remembers personally having the discussion of green eggs and ham with her own father. “I told my dad, ‘Dad, you can’t eat this stuff. Ham isn’t supposed to be green.’”
Have you had to go through a heart-wrenching situation like this with your aging parents? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.