Were you surprised if not appalled during a recent visit to your parent's home? Did you find the house in disarray, refrigerator empty, prescriptions unfilled, bills unpaid, clothes unwashed, or some obvious personal hygiene issues? As a nurse, I hear countless reports from sons and daughters who unexpectedly discover their parents doing poorly. Concerned children describe how their elderly parents tricked them into believing that they were doing "just fine" on their own. This unforeseen discovery, to find your parent's health declining, can cause a great deal of guilt and anxiety. Monitoring the following 10 signs that your aging parents need help will enable you to intervene timely and effectively.
1) Not paying household bills on time or at all. Bills and important documents are not put away in their appropriate places and left lying around.
2) Not recognizing a need for, or arranging household maintenance. For example, the lawn has not been mowed, the trash remains full, or the mail is stacking up.
3) Driving safely is becoming an issue. For example, there is an increase in traffic violations and accidents, your parent easily becomes lost in familiar areas, or you notice signs of deteriorating vision.
4) Not eating regularly. Your parent shows lack of motivation to prepare meals, is not eating at regular times, or is missing meals completely. There is a poor selection of food on hand and outdated food in the refrigerator.
5) Declining personal hygiene. Signs to look for include unkempt hair, dirty or lengthy nails, poor oral hygiene, body or urine odor, unshaven, and wearing the same clothes over and over.
7) Not keeping up with or lack of interest in housekeeping. For example, laundry is piling up, the sink is full of dirty dishes, or the floors haven't been cleaned. Your parent complains that it is too difficult or tiring to do these daily chores.
7) Losing track of medications. Your parent is forgetting doses, overdosing, or taking the wrong pills at the wrong times. Inability to manage medications is causing drug interactions, health concerns, or even hospitalization.
8) Reluctance to leave the house. Your parent is not running their usual errands or making traditional visits to see friends and family. You notice they are sleeping long periods and uninterested in usual hobbies or activities.
9) Mobility is declining. Getting up and down stairs or in/out of the house is becoming a challenge. Your parent is walking unsteady on level ground, complaining of dizziness, and falls are inevitable (or have already occurred).
10) Not making sound decisions. Your parent is a danger to themselves (or others). For example, they leave the stove turned on or cigarettes burning. Clouded thinking is preventing them from recognizing an emergency or knowing the appropriate response.
Clare Absher is a Registered Nurse with 43 years of experience. Most of her experience is in home health serving as a caregiver, educator, patient advocate, and liaison between families and community resources. She has also worked in acute care, assisted living, and retirement settings. She is passionate about helping families care for their elderly loved ones at home.