Aging parents and adult children can feel fear and anxiety over the potential need for in-home care. There are over 17.7 million people who act as family caregivers for an older adult because of health-related reasons. It is important to know when to step in and talk to your parent about accepting help. These warning signs can help you navigate the challenges of caring for your parent while protecting your relationship.

It can be shocking when you first notice that your older parent is not coping well.

You start to notice little signs that make you worry and keep you up at night. Your mom, who once dressed meticulously, now answers the door in a stained and mismatched outfit. Or your dad, who loved his weekly game of golf, mentions that he sold his golf clubs.

You see a fresh bruise on your mom’s arm, but she dismisses your concern saying she slipped coming out of the shower. The car is parked haphazardly in the driveway and you notice a new dent on the door.

You may be worried but don’t know what to do. Your parents may have always been independent and deny that there is a problem now.

Often adult children will be afraid of offending their aging parents but are worried about their parents’ safety and ability to be independent. In the United States up to 17% of older adults will need help with household tasks and self-care.

An article by Next Avenue states that most parents will ask for occasional favors but won’t ask for help with more personal care even when they need it. You want to make sure that they are safe and well taken care of while your parent may feel anxious about losing their independence.

How do you know when it is time to step in?

These top 10 signs will give you an idea of what concerns to look for as your parent ages.

  1. Difficulty Handing Daily Activities

Look at how your parent is managing the day to day responsibilities of living on their own. This includes being able to:

– drive

– run errands

– prepare meals

– shower and bathe

– keep a clean house

– keep up with home maintenance

What you might notice is that your parent has been unexpectedly losing weight. They may have spoiled food in their fridge or half eaten containers of food left out. Their once tidy house is now cluttered and dirty.

  1. Frequent Falls

Falls are responsible for more than 50% of injury related hospitalizations in people over the age of 65. A simple fall can result in serious injuries such as hip fractures, traumatic brain injuries or broken arms.

You might notice that your parent has unusual bruises, cuts or scrapes. This could be a sign that they are having trouble with balance and physical ability. Watch how your parent moves and whether they appear unsteady.

  1. Unsafe Driving

The National Institute on Aging states that changes in health such as problems with vision, hearing and reflexes can lead to unsafe driving. Drivers over the age of 65 are at an increased risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash.

Signs that let you know that driving is becoming a concern would be:

– frequent accidents (even minor ones such as backing into a post)

– traffic tickets

– anxiety about driving at night

– new and often unexplained dents or scratches on the car

Being able to drive safely is important to maintaining independence. If your parent is an unsafe driver it is a danger to both your parent and others on the road.

  1. Social Isolation and Loneliness

Loneliness and not having regular social interactions can cause a faster decline in mental and physical health. You may notice that your parent is not getting out as much as they used to. Or that they are no longer interested in hobbies or activities that they once loved.

Your parent may find that the friends they once socialized with are no longer around. It may be difficult to get out of the house. Or they may find that they can’t do the things they once loved. Being isolated will often lead to depression. If you find that your parent is spending days or weeks at a time without seeing another person, this is a reason to step in.

  1. Safety Concerns

Safety concerns can be little things like forgetting to turn off a burner after cooking. Or leaving a cigarette burning as they fall asleep. You might notice that sidewalks aren’t shovelled during the snowy, winter months or that the heating is not working properly.

Other common safety concerns can be caused by an inability to recognize or react to danger. This can put your parent at a higher risk for being a target of scams and criminal behavior.

  1. Not Taking Care of Themselves

A change in personal hygiene habits is a clear sign of a parent struggling to care for themselves. You might notice when you lean in for a hug that there is strong body odor or the smell of urine. This could indicate that your parent is having trouble bathing on their own or problems with incontinence which can lead to skin breakdown.

Aging parents will often not want to mention to their children if they are having trouble with their personal care. But be aware of changes in how they look, dress and smell.

  1. Trouble Managing Money

When you are visiting with your parent you will want to pay attention to how they are coping financially. Signs that your parent may be having trouble with money include:

– late payment notices

– bounced checks

– calls from collection agencies

– confusion over money that they thought they had

Pay attention when you are out with your parent. Are they still able to confidently pay the bill at a restaurant? Also watch for frequent complaints about “the numbers not adding up” or “I thought I had more money in that account.”

  1.   Not Taking Medications Correctly

29% of American adults are taking 5 or more prescription medications. There are over 1.3 million visits to the emergency department caused by side effects, overmedication and medication errors. Keeping track of medications can be overwhelming.

Your parent may also be taking supplements, vitamins and over the counter medications along with their prescription medications. You will want to watch for prescriptions that are not being filled, forgetting to take medications or taking medications at the wrong time.
Also look for multiple open bottles of over the counter medications such as Advil, Tylenol, sleeping pills or antacids. Check for spilled bottles or dropped pills.

  1. Increased Forgetfulness and Confusion

Are you noticing that your parent is repeating themselves frequently? Or asking you the same question during one conversation. Your parent might complain that they got lost coming home from the grocery store. Or that they don’t know how to work the remote anymore.

You might notice things like a half-finished load of laundry sitting in the washer for days. Your parent might forget plans that you made with them or miss important appointments.

  1. Emergencies and Calls for Help

Emergencies are an immediate red flag that your parent may need help. This could include:

– Falls

– Visits to the emergency department

– Fires accidentally started by your parent

– Criminal activity

But you might also notice less dramatic emergency concerns. If your parent is calling you multiple times a day with small concerns this is often a clear sign that more help is needed.

What You Can Do to Help Your Aging Parent

Once you know that your parent needs help, you need to know what to do.

Be gentle in how you approach your parent. Keep your relationship with your parent at the front of your mind. Try first to offer help in a non-judgemental way.

Many parents will respond well if you start the conversation by reminding them of your connection and love. For example, “Mom, you have always worked so hard to take care of me. And I appreciate that and would love to give you a break. Is there anything I can do for you now to help you?”

You can talk with an experienced Healthy Living Network professional about how you can make sure that your aging parent is safe at home. The Healthy Living Network provides exceptional in-home care and support for your aging parents that can help them to stay in their own home.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Medication Safety Basics

Family Caregiver Alliance: Hiring In-Home Help

National Institute on Aging: When It’s Time to Leave Home

National Institute on Aging: Assessing Changes in Memory and Function

Older Adults Who Need Caregiving and the Family Caregivers Who Help Them

Reducing Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older People

Should Safety Take Priority Over Independence for Older Parents?