18 Signs Your Aging Parent Needs Help

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As the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak unfolds, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on your aging parents and the elderly. While healthcare officials encourage social distancing and self-isolation, you can still check on those you love through brief visits to drop off supplies, phone calls, or video chat.

As you check in more often, you might notice distinct changes in the way they communicate, their general habits, their physical abilities, or all three. You might wonder, “Is this normal behavior?” “What can I do to help my aging parents?” or even, “Where do I begin?”

Whether food is spoiling, the mail is piling up, or something simply seems out of the ordinary, certain signs suggest your aging parents need help now.

How to Spot and Track Troublesome Signs Early

When help is needed, you can usually spot problems as soon as you drive up or enter your parents’ home, says A Place for Mom expert, Melissa Henston, who has a doctorate in geriatric psychology. “There are a bunch of warning signs that are easy to spot. For example, the exterior of the house has peeling paint. 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.”

“Always note anything out of character,” Henston adds. “I once told my dad, ‘Dad, you can’t eat this stuff. Ham isn’t supposed to be green.’”

She knew immediately her dad’s behavior was out of character and dangerous. But for others, the signs may be different or more difficult to recognize. That’s why documenting anything out of the ordinary is useful.

Does My Mom or Dad Need Help? Look for These Signs

No one knows your parents or loved ones like you do — something unusual for them may be an everyday situation at your friend’s parents’ home. Still, it’s helpful to know the common warning signs that may signal trouble, especially now, since the coronavirus may have your loved ones more isolated. Can you relate to the following?

  1. Bounced checks, calls from collections, and late payment notice. Are bills being paid late or not at all? Are there messages from collection companies?
  1. Broken or damaged appliances and fixtures. Have they stopped cooking or maintaining a regular meal schedule because their kitchen appliances don’t work? Are important items breaking and/or not being tended to, such as light bulbs or smoke alarms?
  1. Changes in mood or extreme mood swings. Are your parents acting differently toward you, friends, or even strangers?
  1. Cluttered, dirty or a disorganized house. Is the home beginning to look and feel different, or even unrecognizable?
  1. Confusion and uncertainty when performing familiar tasks. Do your parents seem uncertain how to complete daily chores or tasks such as laundry, vacuuming, or washing dishes?
  1. Feeling depressed or having little to no energy. Is there a noticeable change in your parents’ demeanor? Do they smile or laugh like they used to?
  1. Wearing disheveled or tattered clothing. Is there a distinguishable difference in your parent’s appearance? Are their clothes worn or dirty?
  1. Keeping expired groceries and not throwing them away. Is food collecting dust on the counter or making the fridge and house smell?
  1. Forgetfulness. Are they losing or misplacing keys, wallets, or other important items?
  1. Forgetting to take medications. Are there full bottles of prescription pills in medicine cabinets?
  1. Leaving the house or yard maintenance unattended to. Are weeds growing uncontrolled or is trash piling up outside?
  2. Loss of interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed. When was the last time they did something they loved?
  1. Missing important appointments. Are they frequently rescheduling missed appointments, or simply not showing up?
  1. Weight loss or poor dieting habits. Have you noticed they’re eating less, or consuming only fast food or prepackaged snacks?
  1. Poor personal hygiene. Do you frequently notice bad breath or body odor?
  1. Trouble getting up from a seated position. Are they struggling to sit or stand?
  2. Frequent injuries or bruising. Have you seen bruises, scratches, or cuts appearing more often without any reason or an explanation?
  1. Unexplained dents or damage on their car. Are they getting into more accidents? Or in general, not paying attention to their car or safety?

If you notice any of these signs, or if you believe your loved one’s health or happiness is at risk, it’s time to have an open and caring conversation about it. Henston’s Tough Conversations Expert Guide to Assessing Well-Being can help you and your family have a constructive and honest talk.

A variety of care options are available for your aging parents such as assisted living, memory care, and nursing homes. Our online guide to Senior Housing and Care provides additional housing options, the services included, and cost information. If you’d like to talk through any aspect of senior living, our Senior Living Advisors are up-to-date on the latest steps senior living communities are taking to eliminate the risk of coronavirus, and how they are creating the safest possible environment for seniors.

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