A Place for Mom

18 Signs Your Aging Parent Needs Help

Kim Acosta
By Kim AcostaMarch 22, 2020
Elderly female in wheelchair holding hands with caregiver.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak unfolds, it’s more important than ever to keep a watchful eye on your aging parent. While healthcare officials encourage social distancing and self-isolation, consider dropping off supplies, phone calls or video chat. Whether food is spoiling, mail is piling up, or something simply seems out of the ordinary, certain signs suggest an aging parent needs help now.

How to spot and track troublesome signs early on

“You can usually spot problems as soon as you drive up or enter your parents’ home,” says Melissa Henston, doctor of geriatric psychology and senior living expert at A Place for Mom. “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.”

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“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.’”

For others, the signs may be different or more difficult to recognize. That’s why documenting anything out of the ordinary is useful and important.

Signs your aging parent may need help

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 coronavirus may keep your loved ones more isolated.

Can you relate to any of the following?

  1. Bounced checks, calls from collections, and late payment notices
    Are bills being paid late or not at all? Are there messages from collection companies?
  2. 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?
  3. Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
    Are your parents acting differently toward you, friends or even strangers?
  4. Cluttered, dirty or disorganized house
    Is the home beginning to look and feel different, or even unrecognizable?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. Wearing disheveled or tattered clothing
    Is there a distinguishable difference in your parents’ appearance? Are their clothes worn or dirty?
  8. Keeping expired groceries and not throwing them away
    Is food collecting dust on the counter or making the fridge and house smell?
  9. Forgetfulness
    Are they losing or misplacing keys, wallets or other important items?
  10. Forgetting to take medications
    Are there full bottles of prescription pills in medicine cabinets?
  11. Leaving the house or yard maintenance unattended
    Are weeds growing uncontrolled or is trash piling up outside?
  12. Loss of interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed
    When was the last time they did something they loved?
  13. Missing important appointments
    Are they frequently rescheduling missed appointments, or simply not showing up?
  14. Weight loss or poor dieting habits
    Have you noticed they’re eating less, or consuming only fast food or prepackaged snacks?
  15. Poor personal hygiene
    Do you frequently notice bad breath or body odor?
  16. Trouble getting up from a seated position
    Are they struggling to sit or stand?
  17. Frequent injuries or bruising
    Have you seen bruises, scratches or cuts appearing more often without any reason or an explanation?
  18. Unexplained dents or damage on their car
    Are they getting into more accidents? In general, are they 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, honest talk.

A variety of care options are available for your aging parents, such as assisted living or memory care. 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.

Kim Acosta
Kim Acosta

Kim Acosta is managing editor at A Place for Mom. She’s produced digital and print content for more than 20 years as an editorial leader at Shape magazine, P&G, Hallmark, and others. Her work has appeared in national media outlets including Family Circle, Parents, Lifescript, BuzzFeed, Living Fit, Natural Health, WorkingMother.com, and HomeCare.

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