9 signs your elderly parent needs help

As they age, your parents will begin to need more and more help. But how do you know when to step in? Here are nine signs that your parents may need help right now, and who you can reach out to for that help.

After being independent and self-sufficient for so long, it may be difficult for parents to admit they need help. It can be helpful to share with your parents why you are worried and that you want to help, and then to form solutions together.

1. Forgetfulness

Have your parents begun forgetting appointments or bills that need to be paid? Have they been getting lost more regularly? Maybe they've begun repeating themselves or putting common objects in illogical places. Perhaps they forget the dosage for their medicine, or don't take it altogether.

If this is the case, Bunni Dybnis, a geriatric specialist and member of the National Association of Geriatric Care Managers, says an assessment might be in order to help determine options and resources. Once you know what is going on with your parent, be it a medical condition or dementia, you will better know how to help them.

Who could help: Talk to your parent's doctor about an evaluation (both medical and cognitive) or hire a caregiver to provide transportation and assist with medication.

2. Difficulty getting a round

Are your parents having trouble walking or getting up from a chair? Look at your parents' home: Is the staircase awkward to navigate, are there slippery tiles, does the furniture create obstacles or are they having trouble getting in and out of the shower? Muscle, joint pain or trouble with knees might indicate that a cane or walker is necessary.

Who could help: Visit the doctor regarding your parent's mobility or make  home modifications to improve accessibility. 

3. Loss of appetite

Are your parents losing weight, becoming dehydrated, not cooking, forgetting to eat or eating unhealthy foods? They might be having trouble cooking, reading a recipe, holding utensils or operating a stove, or they may have difficulty with the senses of taste and smell. Dybnis suggests checking the refrigerator for out of date food. Make sure your parents are drinking and not becoming dehydrated, especially during the heat of the summer.

Who could help: Hire a caregiver who can prepare meals, consider a meal delivery service or prepare meals yourself. Try these quick and easy meals for seniors.

4. Lack of involvement

Is your mom social and active, visiting friends, participating in faith, civic or community activities? Or is she listless with low spirits and a lack of energy? Dybnis suggests asking your mom why she no longer takes part in activities she used to enjoy. 

Who could help: A doctor could address medical issues; alternative transportation may be needed to take them to an activity.

5. Change in hygiene

Is your dad's hair uncombed and teeth not brushed? Is he no longer going to the barber regularly? Is he wearing the same clothing? Lack of awareness about his personal appearance might be a sign of physical problems, depression or Alzheimer's. Talk to your parents about what you noticed and ask them about it.

Who could help: The conversation will lead you to your next step. It may be a budget problem or they may need transportation to a store for supplies or clothes. Or there could be medical or cognitive concerns that require a doctor visit.

6. Change in personality

Do you notice a change in your parents' personalities, especially in the evening? Are they talking too loudly or too softly? Are they accusing people of doing or saying things, wanting to check on children or displaying other odd behaviors?

Dr. Glenn Smith, a neuropsychologist who specializes in Alzheimer's at the Mayo Clinic explains this may be sundowning or late-day confusion. He suggests planning activities during the day that include exposure to sunlight and keeping a nightlight on to reduce agitation. 

Who could help: If Dr. Smith's suggestions fail, make an appointment with your parent's physician. You can also speak with an aging life care manager to discuss alternative strategies.

7. Illness or physical disability

If your parents suffer from advanced diabetes or have visual difficulties, such as Parkinson's or severe or recurring strokes, they may need you to step in. Dybnis suggests finding out what the problem is and what services can be provided to keep your parent active and social despite the disability.

Who could help:  In addition to medical advice, hiring a van service or housekeeping may help with quality of life.

8. Unusual amount of clutter

Is there dirty laundry or unopened mail? Is the house unkempt, especially in the kitchen and bathroom? Does the lawn need mowing? Maybe maintaining the home is becoming too much for your parents to handle.

Who could help:  A housekeeper, lawn service or senior caregiver.

9. Bruises, scratches and burns

Have you noticed unexplained bruises, bumps, scratches or burns? These may be signs your loved one is having difficulty taking care of themselves.

Who could help : The house may need a geriatric makeover; hiring a housekeeper or meal delivery service may be helpful. Ultimately you want to make sure that your loved one is safe and able to live at home.

Victoria Yancey is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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