From the day we are born to the day we leave home, and often beyond, our parents provide us with care, love, help, and advice. They are there when we need them, and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this will always be the case.
No matter how much we might wish they could stay the same forever, everybody ages, and as they do, their needs and lifestyle will change. Eventually, our parents reach a point when they need us as we once needed them, but it will vary from person to person when that time comes.
How, then, do we know when an aging parent needs more help? Unfortunately, many older people are reluctant to ask for extra help, and some may not even realize they need it. This means that the responsibility of recognizing when an elderly person needs help often falls to family members. Most older people want to retain their independence and make their own life decisions for as long as they can, and admitting that they need help can be incredibly difficult. In some cases, this can mean that older people struggle on until they have a serious accident, and their families come to realize how much their quality of life has declined.
Over time, you may notice that your parent’s habits, lifestyle, or even their personality starts to change. At some point, it is likely that they will require more help in their home or to move into an assisted living facility. This article describes some potential warning signs to look out for, which could indicate that your parent needs more help.
Difficulty with mobility
It is natural for older people to lose some mobility and/or lose some of their previous physical fitness. However, if your parent is finding it increasingly difficult to sit, stand up, climb stairs, or move from a bed to a chair, their home may need some adaptations such as handrails or a stairlift chair.
Many people dismiss an elderly person’s reduced mobility as a natural part of getting older and do not take action until a serious accident has happened. In addition to making an older person’s home safer, regular exercise and a nutritious, balanced diet can make a big difference to a person’s physical fitness.
Changes in appearance or personal hygiene
There are several concerning signs that an older person might be having difficulties looking after themselves, such as significant weight loss. This could suggest that they are reluctant or unable to leave the house for shopping, are having difficulty cooking food, or are not eating enough nutritious foods.
You might also notice a change in their personal appearance and/or hygiene, e.g., unwashed or poorly groomed hair, unfastened or dirty clothing, strong body odor, untrimmed nails, or poor dental hygiene.
It is also important to look out for bruising or wounds, which could suggest that they have fallen, and burns on the skin could indicate difficulty with cooking.
More help from family members could make all the difference, but another possible solution could be to hire in-home help professionals to help with bathing, grooming, shopping, and cooking meals, or to get their meals delivered.
For some older people, it may be in their best interests to consider moving into an assisted living community. In an assisted living facility, residents have their own private room while being supported by professional caregivers and medical professionals, as well as having access to engaging and rewarding activities designed to improve their quality of life.
Deteriorating mental health
Your parent’s mental health should be as much of a priority as their physical health as one cannot thrive without the other. If you notice that your parent is not as interested in activities or hobbies that they used to enjoy or are reluctant to socialize, they may suffer from depression. This could also show as a loss of motivation, mood swings, or an increasing tendency to avoid contact with family and friends. They may be more irritable than usual, and, in extreme cases, they may become abusive or aggressive. Poor personal hygiene and less attention to grooming can also be signs of deteriorating mental health.
Major contributing factors to depression in older people are loneliness and poor self-esteem. To address this, it is important to be proactive about keeping in touch with your parent, involve them in social occasions, and help them get out of the house and maintain a social life.
Neglecting essential household chores
A little bit of untidiness is one thing, but dirt, excessive clutter, or rooms covered in trash are not healthy. Are they able to keep on top of their mail and pay their bills? Are they keeping enough fresh food in the house or letting it spoil? Are they maintaining their garden and taking out the garbage? Everyone has their own standards when it comes to maintaining their home, but if you notice that your parent is not taking care of the essentials, it may be time to offer more support.
Early warning for dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia affects a persons’ cognitive functioning, i.e., thinking processes, memory, and problem-solving capacity. It is also a symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease. People with dementia do not recover, but catching the condition early can ensure that your parent gets the right medication and treatment to slow its progress.
Early signs to look out for include regular lapses in memory, forgetting to attend appointments or take medication, confusion, poor judgment (e.g., being susceptible to financial scams and sales pitches), finding it difficult to complete tasks that were previously easy, repeating themselves or struggling to form sentences, losing objects, failing to recognize people and objects that should be familiar, losing track of time, changes in personality and/or behavior, and getting lost.
The next steps
If you recognize any of the warning signs in this article, do not assume that your parent necessarily needs professional in-home care or to move into an assisted living facility. In some cases, a few changes to the home itself, help with running errands like picking up groceries or medication, and more communication between family members could make all the difference.
If you are concerned that your parent either needs more help in the home or could benefit from moving to an assisted living facility, your first step is to talk to them about your concerns. Their feelings and concerns need to be heard and listened to so that you can come up with solutions to problems that will improve their quality of life.