Any visit to see aging parents offers direct insight into whether their current living situation is safe, accessible, and supportive of an independent aging process.
Having the conversation about long-term care plans is never easy, particularly if you aren’t sure about what you’re seeing, or you second guess your intuition (never a good idea, that intuition is usually spot on).
Clear, quantifiable “proof” is always the best means of determining whether or not your parents are safe to live at home, on their own. Establishing that does not mean they need to move, only that some type of home-based care needs to be established, whether that means family and friend check-ins and/or the assistance of professional caregivers.
10 Signs Your Parents Are No Longer Safe Unassisted
Here are 10 of the most common signs that seniors are struggling to accomplish day-to-day activities or that they’re no longer able to live independently and safely anymore.
1.They’re falling down more often
Falls are the #1 leading cause of decline in the senior populations health. In addition to the risk of traumatic brain injuries, senior falls lead to surgical treatments, which include the use of sedation and anesthetics…and the list goes on.
All of this is linked to the physical and cognitive decline of seniors who were completely healthy, fully-mobile, and independent prior to a fall. Take falls very seriously. Ensure the house is as safe and accessible as possible, make sure they are eating well, sleeping well, exercising, etc.
They can go for walks or drive your parent to a senior yoga class. Everything seniors do to remain stronger and healthier will reduce their risk of fall.
2.They seem tired, lethargic or exhausted
Everyone slows down as they age, but seniors who are happy, healthy and mentally sound typically have a fair bit of energy – even if it’s just to walk out and get the paper, play cards with friends, etc. If your parent seems tired, lethargic or complains about being exhausted all the time – something else is at play.
Poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, depression/loneliness, medication complications, not taking medications, the development of new medical conditions – all can cause energy levels to plummet. Schedule an appointment with your parent’s physician for a full checkup so you can get to the root of the issue.
3.The medicine cabinet is a disaster
You open the medicine cabinet and you see: lots of new medications you didn’t know they were taking, old medication bottles with lapsed prescriptions, pill bottles that have more pills than they should based on the date the prescription was filled, and so on.
Losing track of medications can start a landslide of physical and mental complications that are difficult to recover from. The simple act of organizing meds, using a medication reminder (digital or human), may be essential to keeping your parent’s health on track.
4.Hygiene habits have decreased
It may be startling to notice parents who have always prioritized hygiene are suddenly forgetting to shower, neglecting to shave or overlooking the need to launder their clothes. In fact, hygiene is one of the first things to go when seniors struggle with cognitive decline, when they get lonely and depressed, or when fatigue or aforementioned malnourishment has gotten the best of them.
Homecare services can ensure laundry is done, sheets are changed and that parents can bathe safely, multiple times per week. They also help with toileting and daily grooming.
5.The cupboards are bare
Take a moment to look in the refrigerator and the cupboards. If things look sparse, or your mom who loved to cook is now living on saltines and cheese sticks, some type of assistance will be needed to ensure parents are well-fed.
6.They’ve lost significant amounts of weight
Once seniors stop eating well, weight can drop dramatically. Especially housebound seniors, who rarely get out and about, can lose weight because they aren’t able to get out to a grocery store, don’t have the stamina to complete their grocery list, or are no longer able to prep, cook and clean up anymore. As a result, they may be getting by on the bare minimum, which leaves them thin, weak and malnourished.
If your parents are mentally and emotionally well, having a caregiver shop and prep some meals each week can make a tremendous difference. Otherwise, more substantial support is needed.
7.Mail and bills are piled up and unopened
Are there piles of unopened mail and bills stacked around? Check in to make sure bills are paid. If this type of pile-up is unusual, it may be a sign of inability to keep up with the bookkeeping side of things.
Not only can this cause serious issues if mortgage, car, or insurance payments are lost in the shuffle, it also makes aging loved ones more susceptible to senior scams if they get confused about what they’re paying, and to whom.
8.The house is in a state of disarray
Not only are cluttered and unclean homes undesirable, they become a major health and hygiene issue. If this was the norm, that’s one thing. But for many children or grandchildren, visiting their relatives and seeing the house unkempt is a major red flag.
As long as you’re there straightening up, take simple steps to make the home safer and more accessible for your parents. If all seems well mentally and physically, hiring a weekly housekeeper (someone who can check in on them, too) is a good first step.
9.Dents, dings, and scratches around the car
Take a quick peek around the car. Has it been driven lately? If it seems not, check in on that front. Are there dents, dings, or scratches that weren’t there before? If so, it could be your parents are involved in fender benders as the result of poor eyesight, delayed reflexes, medication side effects (failure to take their meds), or general confusion.
Do check-in and determine whether it’s safe for them to drive anymore. If not, driving services can get them anywhere they need to go, any day of the week – so reassure them that the inability to drive will not prevent them from attending their weekly appointments, favorite events, or social activities.
10.“Funny” stories about how they got lost
Getting lost along familiar routes, not being able to find the car in the grocery store parking lot (more than once), wandering aimlessly on a daily walking route – can all be signs of early dementia or Alzheimer’s and it is scary. Of course, for a senior who wants to remain independent, these scenarios are easily written off as jokes so everyone remains in denial.
Take these stories seriously. It may be time to have your parent evaluated for dementia by a medical professional so a plan can be put in place.