5 Ominous Signs That Your Elderly Parents May Need Help

We all get a little bit older each year. It’s easy to notice the gray hairs and belly lines on your own body — after all, those aching joints now and then are a timely reminder that things are not necessarily the same. But when your parents live further away, it’s easy to forget that they’re changing, too. Eventually, they may need more help than you’re aware of right now. How can you tell?

Elderly Parents Need Help

1. Conversations are more disjointed. Do they have trouble consistently remembering addresses and names? We all do some of this – it’s called absentmindedness. Calling them regularly, even if only for a few minutes, will give you a more consistent picture of their verbal skills. (And they’ll love the regular contact!)  If your parent consistently forgets family names, shows confusion or is vague about their general activities, it might be time to make a visit. While you’re there, take a moment to quietly glance at their mail. You may notice:

2. Unpaid notices are evident for bills. More sweepstakes-type items are in the pile. Is it that money is short…or they’ve just forgotten to pay? Also, a plethora of sweepstakes and other “you’ve-just-won” notices may be a sign that your folks have responded to a scammer. (Once they do, their contact information may well have been sold to a mailing list, which will just generate more ‘opportunities.’) If you’re lucky, your parents have already figured out it’s a scam. If not, you can see if:

3. Bank accounts are overdrawn…or property taxes are not paid. This is a tough one, because you’re going to have to ask. An even better way: offer to be a co-signer on your parents’ accounts — that way, if they’re suddenly incapacitated, you can easily step in to help. (It also lets you discreetly check for irregularities.) If they’re reluctant to let you do this, they can always appoint a fiduciary, instead.

Tax payments are easier – because those are a matter of public record. Our county’s records for properties are even online, and can be easily accessed. You may have to make a trip to the county assessor’s while you’re visiting at your folks’ house. But then again, you’ll also want to see if:

4. The refrigerator and freezer are bare, and the living area is increasingly cluttered. Is your mom having trouble vacuuming, cleaning or cooking? Many states have home health care programs, meant to help keep people at home, and out of nursing facilities. (New York’s program is here, for example.) Even if no public aid exists (and you may have to dig to find it — don’t give up easily), consider hiring a trusted agency or relative to come in for a few hours a week. (Don’t hesitate to do background checks — they don’t cost that much, and give you much more peace of mind.)

Your dad may not be eating properly because he has little interest in cooking. Check: is there a local senior center he could visit, or a Meals On Wheels program? Get some nutritious frozen dinners. Stop by the local farmer’s market for fruit, or pick up favorite snacks. (One woman actually spent time making extra meals, and left the freezer nicely stocked, until her next visit.)

  Check outside, too. Is the lawn getting mowed? Neighbors may be able to help (offer to pay) — or hire a service. Many have a seasonal plan, which keeps lawns trim, as well as walks shoveled regularly after snowstorms. Finally:

5. Your parent is increasingly frail. They may have trouble moving around, or caring for themselves. (One good, if nasty tip: do an extensive smell check of their favorite chair.)  They may fall easily. When’s the last time they visited a doctor? Are they able to see well enough? (They may have been putting off a visit to the eye doctor for a new prescription.)

If possible, go along on their next doctor visit. Ask questions, if you’re not sure what’s happening. Are they skimping on prescriptions, because of cost? Many programs are out there now to help seniors pay for medications. (Even Wal-Mart has one…just ask.)

  Technology is a growing help in this department. Medical alert systems have gone down in price, and are a reliable way for your dad to signal for help if he falls and cannot get up. Security programs can now be monitored via computer. Even Skype is a helpful (and no-cost) way to see your parent while they’re talking. (Use the grandkids as an excuse, if you have to.)

 One sneaky way to check on your parents’ health: if you have a trusted friend or relative who is a nurse, doctor or nursing assistant, is to ask them to visit now and then…then contact you with a report. For the last few years of our mother-in-law’s life, a cousin would “drop by for coffee” regularly. Mom had terminal bone cancer, and thanks to our kind cousin (who was a nurse), we were able to gauge Mom’s health more easily. (Offer to pay, or help them in kind with something else.)

Everything may be fine. But if it isn’t, at least you’ll have a starting point to consider what to do next. After all, your parents paid the bills, mowed the lawn, and took care of you growing up. Taking care of your parents now is just returning the favor.


9 Responses to 5 Ominous Signs That Your Elderly Parents May Need Help

  1. Children always see their parents as the ones who took care of them and who were the ones they could always count on while growing up. My parents aren’t there yet but my grandparents all went through this and I’m sure our parents will at some point, as will we. Sad to think about how our body lets us down at the end, but you can’t hide from it, and the tips and signs you mentioned are all good ones.

  2. I live far away from my parents but my sibling takes care and checks in on them. I call them often and vice versa but for now they are ok. I know when they get even older it will be tough for me but I’ll do whatever I can. Parents took care of us when we were young and we help them when they are old. Love.

  3. We live about 3 hours from my mom, but I see her getting older. She is still fine handling all of her responsibilities, but it is her physical body that is failing. I hope that we are able to live closer as she gets older.

    Good list of tips. I certainly saw these changes with my grandparents.

  4. This is one of the main reasons we decided to stay in our area and build our house. Both are parents are literally 20 mins away and as they get older we’d like to take care of them. We firmly believe in taking care of family and plan on having them move in with us one of these days.

    These are all great indicators, great write up!

  5. We recently had to place a grandparent in a nursing home because she just stopped cleaning her house and it was starting to fill with junk and mess.. It was sad, but she is much safer and better off now..

  6. All good comments here…thanks so much for putting in your thoughts!

    Our grandparents have been gone for decades; Husband’s parents are both dead, and my dad died 3 years ago. Only my mom, in her mid-seventies, is here…and she lives in Michigan. My brother is nearby, thankfully, and has power of attorney. The folks also put their assets into a trust while my dad was still alive — a big help. But Mom relies on me to check-in almost every day, fly back regularly (at least 1-3 times a year), and help with the big problems. (The latest was a new stove. It will be delivered Monday.)
    It would be easy to let Brother do everything — but Mom needs me to be involved, as well. I only wish she lived 1800 miles closer. But that may happen if her health goes bad. We’ll see.

  7. These tips are good. I have experiences with my grandma. A few years ago we noticed that the conversation was quite disjointed. We only think she has bad memory. But than it was worse. She couldn´t remember what she had done yesterday or were she was going etc. Last year the situation was so bad that we had to find her some place with 24 hours professional care. Some people recommended me this Los Angeles Alzheimer care. We visited this place and were really impressed. All the nice staff, pleasant atmosphere, I only wish there were more places like this.

  8. My parents live in Florida and I am in Philly but I call them almost everyday. So far they are both very sharp, but your things to watch out for are well taken and should be kept in mind. Nice point about the monitoring technology being used as an aid to check in on them. Big Brother, I mean Son, is watching!

  9. Hey, Steve, I’m of the opinion anything that helps…

    I’d also, if you can, get your parents to give you access to their accounts. Set up online access, and you can glance at them every week or so, to make sure all’s well. We check our bank accounts daily, after someone hacked into them via Paypal and tried to make off with $500 or so. It could easily happen to your folks, as well.

    I haven’t talked my mom into letting me have electronic access to her accounts. Yet. But I can feel that time coming.

    Thanks so much, all of you, for contributing.

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