20 Warning Signs Your Parent Needs Help at Home

Knowing when to begin discussions about needed assistance with aging parents is not always as simple as one might think. Maybe you've noticed that dad's unopened mail is piling up. Or mom, once meticulous about her appearance, is wearing wrinkled clothes and not doing her hair. Perhaps there are bruises on your loved one's arms. When you bring up these observations, their instant response is, "Everything is fine, there's no need to worry."

Admitting they need help would mean they can no longer take care of themselves, and no one wants to lose their independence. "Denial is the unrealistic hope that a problem is not really happening and will go away by itself. Admitting they need help and accepting assistance is not easy for people as they age. It represents a loss of independence. Denial plays a major role and signs get ignored," says Paul Hogan, Founder and Chairman of Home Instead Senior Care.

The burden often falls on the family to recognize the signs that an aging parent might need help with daily living tasks. This doesn't necessarily mean that your loved one has to move to assisted living or a nursing home, but they may need some extra help in their home. If they're not willing to admit it, how do you know if your elderly parent needs home care? Look for the red flags listed below.

Signs Your Parent Needs Help at Home

  • Spoiled food that doesn't get thrown away
  • Missing important appointments
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Difficulty getting up from a seated position
  • Difficulty with walking, balance and mobility
  • Uncertainty and confusion when performing once-familiar tasks
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unpleasant body odor
  • Infrequent showering or bathing
  • A strong smell of urine in the house
  • Noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care
  • Dirty house, extreme clutter and dirty laundry piling up
  • Stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox
  • Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors
  • Poor diet or weight loss
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
  • Forgetting to take medications, or taking incorrect dosages
  • Unexplained dents and scratches on a car

Once the problem is realized, the family must decide if home health care is the best option. It is generally defined as non-medical support services delivered at the home of the senior. "The aim of this kind of care is to allow seniors to remain at home longer rather than moving to an assisted living community, nursing home or other type of senior care facility. It may be appropriate if a senior prefers to stay at home but needs minor assistance with activities of daily living," says Sam Almengor, National Accounts Director for Senior Helpers, a national company that provides professional in-home assistance services.

"One of the most frightening prospects for seniors is leaving home," Hogan says.

Benefits of Home Care

These agencies and their employees can help with any activities and needs that a person may have throughout the day. Typical services include:

  • Companionship and conversation
  • Grocery shopping
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Diet monitoring
  • Hygiene assistance, including bathing and dressing
  • Light housekeeping
  • Walking assistance
  • Errands and transportation
  • Laundry, ironing and vacuuming
  • Changing linens and bed making
  • Helping with bills and mail
  • Supervising home maintenance and repairs
  • Organizing closets and pantries
  • Medication reminders
  • Helping with correspondence
  • Washing dishes
  • Appointment reminders
  • Coordinating home services
  • Picking up prescriptions
  • General shopping
  • Reviewing phone messages
  • Watching movies
  • Play games
  • Going out for meals or other recreational activities together

When and How to Start the Conversation

If you've noticed the warning signs, the time to start talking with senior parents is sooner rather than later. Do not wait until after a crisis has occurred. But how do you bring up sensitive subjects related to aging? Home Instead Senior Care, an American-based miltinational network of franchises specializing in nonmedical hom-based care to support seniors who wish to age in place, recommends some conversation starters that might help overcome the awkwardness.

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 do not recognize a problem, or shrug it off, use concrete examples to support your concerns.

Remember, you are having a conversation with an adult, not talking to a child. Patronizing speech or baby talk will only put older adults on the defensive and convey disrespect. Put yourself in your their shoes and think of how you would want to be addressed in this situation.

What Are the Payment Options?

Agencies and individuals typically bill on an hourly basis for their services, and that rate varies widely depending on your loved one's geographic location. Paying for services is one of the most challenging issues for families because most must pay for them out-of-pocket. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for home care in most instances. Here are some other options that can be used to pay for care:

  • Health Insurance
    Some health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and some health and insurance plans provide coverage for home health care, so be sure to check explanation of benefits statements and policy details.
  • Long–term Care Insurance (LTCI)
    LTCI helps cover the cost of care at home or in a nursing facility. It can cover much of the cost of home care, but this can vary from policy to policy.
  • Veterans Benefits
    If your loved one served in the U.S. military, financial assistance might be available to provide a veteran with home care.
  • State and Local Programs
    Call your local Department of Aging or Area Agency on Aging. In many states, there are local- and state-funded programs that offer limited care for seniors who meet certain criteria.
  • Viatical or Life Insurance Settlements
    If your loved one has a life insurance policy, there are companies that offer policyholders the option to sell their policies in exchange for a lump sum payment that is greater than the cash surrender value.
  • Government Funding
    For low-income elders, Medicaid programs in most states support home care services as an alternative to assisted living and nursing home placement.

Care for aging adults will always pose challenges and tough choices regarding their independence and acceptance of care. Taking the time to seek out local area support and services to assist with answers for some of these questions is necessary, and becoming informed will enable you to make confident decisions.

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