The Telltale Signs: Knowing When an Aging Loved One Needs Help
Aging Loved One Needs Help

The need for in-home care might come from an illness, injury, hospitalization, or simply the gradual process of aging. Indeed, many people remain independent at home into their nineties. Although we may recognize that getting older can diminish us physically, it’s still hard to admit when it gets the better of us, especially when it means the loss of independence and placing a burden on others.

That’s why it is often up to family members to determine whether their elderly relatives need help at home. Those who are alert to the signs and signals can make it easier to broach the subject when the time comes and help avert a crisis by getting help before it occurs.

What are the telltale signs that an elderly person might need help at home? Here are some general categories to keep in mind while you determine whether a loved one needs assistance. No single sign or symptom necessarily indicates the need for in-home care. The accumulation of several almost always adds up to the need for assistance.

Food and nutrition

Good nutrition is essential at any age. Our senses of taste and smell diminish with age, though, which can make us less interested in food. If your parent lives alone, chances are she’s stopped preparing meals the way she did when she had a husband or family. Keep an eye on your loved one’s eating habits and check the refrigerator and pantry periodically. Make sure fresh, nutritious food is available, and look for items that might have spoiled. The elderly often have a higher-than-average amount of spoiled food and staples that have overstayed their welcome.

Personal grooming/hygiene

One of the most obvious signs of deterioration is poor hygiene: dressing sloppily; bathing infrequently; men don’t shave and women don’t get their hair done as often as they used to. This usually happens after the loss of a spouse and because the circle of friends shrinks as the years pass. Poor hygiene can be a symptom of a deeper, more serious problem: chronic depression. A lack of interest in grooming could mean they become more isolated from friends and family, which can be detrimental to physical and emotional well-being.

Housekeeping/home maintenance

Many people are surprised to find their once-fastidious mothers leaving dishes piled high in the kitchen sink and dust collecting on furniture. Likewise, their fathers might ignore or delay necessary maintenance or repairs they used to do themselves. Visit your loved ones often enough to check on housekeeping and general maintenance. Replacing a spotlight could prevent a fall.

Problems with memory/general confusion

As we age, our short-term memory becomes duller, while our long-term memory becomes sharper. People like to joke about it, but poor memory can lead to more serious problems, such as forgetting medications, leaving the stove on, and general confusion outside the home.

Problems with mobility, balance

For various reasons, many elderly people might find it difficult to walk or even stand without assistance, resulting in frequent falls. If this is happening to your loved one, have a doctor conduct a thorough examination to inspect whether the balance problem, for example, could be a result of dizziness from medication. Also, check the house for obstacles, loose rugs, bad lighting, etc. that could exacerbate the problem.

Unsafe or erratic driving

The universal symbol of independence for so many of us – the car – is something the elderly will try to hang on to, no matter how many mishaps or near misses they have. If you notice a lot of dents and dings on their car (from hitting others in parking lots, for example), that’s a sign that someone could be having trouble. Due to our reflexes and eyesight diminishing with age, they could be a danger to themselves and others, and they shouldn’t be allowed to continue to drive. Talk about it frankly and explore transportation alternatives in your community. Many home-care companies, such as ours, offer transportation as one of many standard services.

Behavioral changes.

As we age, it’s natural to lose interest in some of the things we did when we were younger. And it can also bring with it wide mood swings, along with sadness over the loss of peers. Though feeling sad is a normal part of the grieving process, it shouldn’t develop into a chronic lack of interest in life or anti-social behavior. So if your elderly family member starts to exhibit wildly uncharacteristic behavior and wide mood swings that persist, you may want to seek professional help.

Of course, there are other ways the elderly can make their needs known. Some come right out and tell us! Or suppose they don’t like to burden others. In that case, they may drop subtle hints in conversation while talking about a problem they were wrestling with or repeatedly complaining about a particular issue.

In most cases, the best way to tackle the subject of care in their own home is usually to be open and honest with their elderly family members. If there are disagreements over whether they need help, you can always visit a doctor to do an assessment and help you decide on the best course of action that will result in keeping your loved one as happy and independent as possible.

Linda Hart Lucas is the Community Relations Director of DayBreak Adult Care Services Inc., serving Aiken, North Augusta, and Barnwell. Call us for in-home care information at 803-226-0288 or