How to Determine a Senior Needs Help at Home


Admitting the need for assistance—and accepting it—is not easy for people as they age. So, how will you know when your aging parent needs help at home? One thing is certain: Mom and Dad aren’t likely to be the ones who tell you!

Seniors have a strong desire to remain independent and retain control of their own lives for as long as possible. Typically, an older adult will downplay or hide any issues they have been experiencing until an accident or sudden decline in their health makes it plain that they need assistance. Since adult children are often unable to participate in making care decisions before a crisis takes place, the added stress of an unexpected hospitalization or fall complicates things even further.

One way to avoid being caught off-guard is to start regularly monitoring your parents’ physical and mental abilities (ideally in person), encouraging proper legal and financial planning, and researching long-term care options. This will ensure you are prepared should Mom or Dad begin to show signs of needing help.

Signs a Senior Needs Help at Home

Look for these common indicators that an older adult may need help at home or an increased level of care.

Difficulty Performing Activities of Daily Living

  • Bathing and grooming
  • Dressing
  • Toileting
  • Continence
  • Walking and transferring (e.g., moving from the bed to a chair)
  • Eating and drinking

Read: The Importance of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Changes in Physical Function and Appearance

  • Noticeable weight loss due to poor diet, and/or difficulty cooking, eating, shopping for food, etc.
  • Wearing soiled clothing or dressing inappropriately for the season/weather due to difficulties dressing
  • Poor personal hygiene and unpleasant body odor as a result of infrequent showering or bathing
  • Unkempt hair, untrimmed nails, or poor oral hygiene indicating a noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care
  • Bruises, wounds or other marks on the body that could indicate falls or changes in mobility
  • Noticeable burns on the skin could indicate a senior is experiencing problems cooking

Changes in Behavior and Mental Status

  • Lack of drive or motivation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Difficulty keeping track of time
  • Failure to return phone calls to friends and family members
  • Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
  • Increased agitation
  • Verbally or physically abusive behaviors
  • Changes in sleep patterns (e.g., insomnia or sleeping all day)

Neglecting Household Responsibilities

  • Inability to independently complete instrumental ADLs
  • Changes in household cleanliness and organization
  • Extreme clutter or evidence of hoarding
  • Stacks of unopened mail, late payment notices or bounced checks
  • Unpaid bills, calls from collectors or utilities being turned off
  • Spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown away
  • Little or no fresh, healthy food or overall low food supply
  • Stained or wet furniture or carpet
  • Urine odor in the house, which may indicate incontinence
  • Cookware or appliances with noticeable burn marks could indicate food has been left unattended while cooking or reheating
  • Failure to maintain outdoor areas with landscaping, snow removal, or garbage collection
  • Signs of unsafe driving (e.g., automobile dents and scratches)
  • Unfilled prescriptions

Changes in Cognition, Memory and Judgement

  • Forgetfulness (e.g., forgetting to take medications or taking incorrect dosages, missing appointments, misplacing items)
  • Increased confusion
  • Loss of reasoning skills
  • Consistent use of poor judgment (e.g., falling for scams or sales pitches, giving away money)
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Frequently getting lost when walking or driving
  • Repetitive speech patterns
  • Inability to complete sentences
  • Impaired word-finding ability
  • Changes in personality or behavior
  • Poor personal hygiene and/or wearing the same clothes over and over
  • Inability to recall names of familiar people, objects or places

Read: 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias

Hiring Home Care for Aging Parents

If you believe your Mom and Dad are exhibiting any of the following warning signs, the next step is to speak with them about their changing abilities and care needs. It’s best to discuss the future with aging parents sooner rather than later to ensure everyone is on the same page and avoid surprises. Broach the subject respectfully and in such a way that they are able to participate in identifying the underlying problem(s) and coming up with solutions.

Keep in mind that these red flags don’t necessarily mean a move to assisted living or a nursing home is warranted. However, their presence does indicate that some sort of daily supportive care is needed. For many families, hiring home help allows older adults to stay in the comfort of their own houses for as long as safely possible. Use the following guide as a starting point to help you make informed and confident decisions when hiring in-home care.

Read: How to Select an In-Home Care Agency

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The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between AgingCare and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; AgingCare does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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