Recognizing signs that aging parents need help

Recognizing signs that aging parents need help

A long life is a blessing.

Though the longer we live, the more we may find that we are no longer able do the things we used to do. As people age, independence can become fiercely guarded. Aging parents may occasionally keep secrets because they feel embarrassed or burdensome.

That is one reason why caring for elderly parents or grandparents can be a challenging, rewarding and sometimes lonely journey.

If your parent or parents are still living at home, here are a few things to look for to make sure they are still living well.

Look for bruises, broken items or other indications that your loved one has taken a fall. Falls are a leading cause of death and injury among the older population.

Look for signs of pain. Watch how they move ... or how they have stopped moving. This could be a sign that they are experiencing pain.

Watch for unsteadiness. If your parent seems dizzy, encourage him or her to seek medical attention. Dizziness may be a symptom of something more serious.

Look for budget cuts. If your aging loved one lives alone, he or she may have an easier time hiding the fact that money is short. Your parent may compensate by cutting back on food or medication. If you know your loved one should have adequate finances to make ends meet, be on the lookout for frivolous spending or “needy” relatives that may be the reason that finances are tight.

Look at prescriptions. Sometimes older people lose track of time and cannot remember if they have taken their medication or not. A simple look at the prescription should give you the date, the dosage and the number of refills. If there seems to be a discrepancy between the prescription date and the number of the pills in the bottle, it may indicate a medication management problem.

Keep an eye out for weight loss. As people age, they sometimes lose a sense of taste and smell, which makes food less appetizing and can be relative to weight loss. However, unexplained weight loss is cause for concern. If your loved one is losing weight, you might want to be on the lookout for depression, dementia or physical limitations that make cooking too difficult. Weight loss can also be an indication of disease.

Take note of appearance. Is your aging loved one able to take care of daily grooming activities? Are his or her clothes clean? Is he or she able to bathe and care for themselves?

Pay attention to the living conditions. Does your loved one’s home look like it used to look or is there an indication that home care has become a challenge? For instance if your mom was always a neat person and things are getting progressively messy, it may indicate a bigger problem. Scorched pots and pans may indicate forgetfulness when cooking food.

Is the level of forgetfulness normal? Forgetfulness happens to everyone, but when a person has a problem remembering a common word or the name of someone they know extremely well, it may be cause for concern. If you are concerned about your loved one’s level of forgetfulness, you may want to schedule an appointment with a health care provider to make sure that it is not an indication of something more serious.

Has your loved one’s personality changed? A change in personality may signal depression, illness or a reaction to medications. If you are concerned, stay involved and encourage your loved one to visit a health care provider for a check-up.

Here are more warning signs that Marlo Sollitto encourages care givers to look for in the homes of elderly loved ones. The tips can be found in her article 20 Warning Signs Your Parent Needs Help at Home.

  • Spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown away
  • Missing important appointments
  • Trouble getting up from a seated position
  • Difficulty with walking, balance and mobility
  • Uncertainty and confusion when performing once-familiar tasks
  • Unpleasant body odor
  • Infrequent showering and bathing
  • Strong smell of urine in the house
  • Noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care
  • Stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox
  • Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
  • Forgetting to take medications – or taking more than the prescribed dosage
  • Diagnosis of dementia or early onset Alzheimer's
  • Unexplained dents and scratches on a car may indicate driving problems

If you notice any of the situations above, what can you do?

First, let your loved one know how much you care and want to make sure that he or she is healthy, and you want them to have a full and active life, preferably at home. You should share your concerns, it may help your loved one open up about worries, fears or challenges that they have not wanted to share before.

Here are some tangible ways to help.

Offer to go to the doctor with them. If you are concerned about health issues, make it easy for your loved one to seek medical care. Offer to set up an appointment or offer to drive your loved one to a medical appointment. If your loved one chooses to handle medical appointments on his or her own, always ask about the visit and what the follow up steps should be.

Provide shopping assistance or meals. If cooking has become increasingly difficult, you may want to help your loved one find foods that are healthy and easy to prepare. Many grocery stores now offer pre-cut vegetables and a wide variety of pre-packaged foods. If you cook at home, you could make larger portions, package them individually and deliver meals to your loved one to warm up in a microwave.

Encourage your loved one to be safe. If your loved one is a bit unsteady, ask if a cane or walker would help? When you visit, ask if there is anything that you could move from a high shelf to a lower shelf so he or she does not have to reach. Look at the condition of steps, throw rugs, runners and handrails. If there is a light out, simply offer to change it, which may prevent a fall. has a home modification fact sheet that might be helpful to review and assess improvements that could be made.

If you are concerned about a specific health care issue and your loved one does not take it seriously, consider enlisting the support of his or her health care provider. While the provider may not be able to share details with you or discuss the health of your loved one, he or she can listen to your concerns. Your input will help the provider be aware of the issues, ask questions and look for signs or symptoms that may indicate a problem.

What if you live too far away to help? With today’s mobility, you may not live close to your loved one. In that case, call on the support agencies in your area to see what services are available. Many cities have organizations that offer housekeeping and lawn-care services, home care, meals on wheels, and other elder-assistance programs.

If you face the added burdens of career, family responsibilities or distance, you may want to contact Ministry Home Care.

Ministry Home Care can help you identify the services that would be most beneficial to your loved one. To find out more, contact Ministry Home Care at 866.740.1166.

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