Noticing the Signs That Something is Not Right With Your Aging Parent

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The freshness of a new year is upon us, but you can’t help feeling a little unsettled because you’ve started to notice signs that your aging parent needs help. Dad can’t find his meds, or Mom won’t talk about that mysterious dent on the car. You even happened to stop by the house only to discover a kettle left boiling on the stove. These are universal “something’s not right” signs that remind us — no matter how much we try — we just can’t be there for our aging loved ones all the time. We know every aging experience is different, but do you recognize these signs your aging parent needs help?

  • Missed Medication: Missed doses and medication mistakes can lead to very serious medical complications.
  • Mysterious Dent: Look for evidence of parking or speeding tickets, fender-benders, dents and scratches on the senior’s car.
  • Missed Doctor’s Appointment: While this can be a symptom of increased forgetfulness, it is often simply a result of not having transportation and not knowing how to access transportation options on their own.
  • Piling Mail: Seniors can feel overwhelmed by the simple task of reaching the mail box, opening and responding to daily mail, as well as balancing a checkbook, particularly if eye sight is deteriorating or if this was once the responsibility of a now-deceased spouse.
  • Lost Walker: Items and valuables dear to your aging parent become lost. Anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. Be on the lookout for the warning signs of dementia such as returns from regular walks later than usual, difficulty locating familiar places (such as the bathroom or bedroom), or pacing or restless movement.
  • Piles of Laundry: Changes in housekeeping may occur simply because it is too difficult or tiring. This is especially troubling if a parent used to keep the house neat and orderly or if a now-deceased spouse was responsible for these duties.
  • Empty Refrigerator: Seniors who suddenly find themselves alone, who have become lonely over time or are easily overwhelmed by cooking, tend not to eat properly. Their refrigerator may be nearly empty, or packed with spoiled food.
  • Torn Shower Curtain: Damage to bathroom fixtures such as shower curtains, loose towel bars or window sills could indicate your parent is using these items as support, a potential danger if they lose their balance.
  • Unshaven Face: Changes in appearance are the most obvious sign that some assistance is needed. These signs can range from unkempt hair and body odor, to unshaven faces and wearing clothing that is unclean, unchanged for days or inappropriate for the weather.

If any of these signs raise a red flag and you are unsure of how to broach the subject with your loved one, you are not alone. Many adult children know how difficult it can be to talk with their parents about these warning signs. The following tips from Home Instead Senior Care and communication expert Jake Harwood, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona, can help family caregivers communicate with their aging parents on sensitive subjects.

Get started. If you’re 40 or your parents are 70, it’s time to start observing and gathering information carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t reach a conclusion from a single observation and decide on the best solution until you have gathered information with an open mind and talked with your parents.

  • Talk it out. Discuss what you’ve observed and ask your parents what they think is going on. If your parents acknowledge the situation, ask what they think would be good solutions. If your parents don’t recognize a problem, use concrete examples to support your case.
  • Sooner is best. Talk sooner rather than later when a crisis has occurred. If you know your loved one has poor eyesight or has trouble driving at night, begin to address those issues before a problem arises.
  • Forget the baby talk. Remember you are talking to an adult, not a child. Patronizing speech or baby talk will put older adults on the defensive and convey a lack of respect for them. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and think of how you would want to be addressed in the situation.
  • Maximize independence. Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence. Look for answers that optimize strengths and compensate for problems. For instance, if your loved one needs help at home, look for tools that can help them maintain their strengths. Professional caregiving services, such as those offered by Home Instead Senior Care, provide assistance in a number of areas including meal preparation, light housekeeping or medication reminders.
  • Be aware of the whole situation. If your dad dies and soon afterward your mom’s house seems to be in disarray, it’s probably not because she suddenly became ill. It’s much more likely to stem from a lack of social support and the loss of a life-long relationship. Make sure that your mom has friends and a social life.
  • Ask for help. Many of the issues of aging can be solved by providing parents with the support they need to continue to maintain their independence. Resources such as Home Instead Senior Care, area agencies on aging and local senior centers can help provide those solutions.

Having a timely conversation and taking the necessary precautions is critically important. 48% of home accidents experienced by seniors could have been prevented and according to ER doctors, 61% of seniors who visit the emergency room could benefit from extra support at home. At Home Instead Senior Care our mission is to provide supportive care for seniors at home or where ever home is. To ensure that the relationship with our clients is personal, we match the personality and likes/dislikes of our senior clients with that of our CAREGivers. This creates a special bond between our senior clients, their families and our CAREGivers. Local resident and friend Dan Macke shared, “Our Home Instead CAREGiver Cindy was like part of the family. When my Mom passed away, Cindy attended the funeral and more than a year later, we continue to stay in contact with her. I can’t say enough about how much she meant to my Mom and our family.”

For additional resources please visit or schedule a free, In-Home Consultation and/or In-Home Safety Check by calling us at  (262) 546-0226.


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