How to Determine an Aging Parent 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




Walking and transferring (e.g., moving from the bed to a chair)


Changes in Physical Function and Appearance

Noticeable weight loss due to poor diet, 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, such as 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 wearing the same clothes over and over

Inability to recall names of familiar people or objects

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 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.

Bruce Webb is a Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) and has an extensive network of senior-related referrals.

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