- Changes in your parent’s housekeeping.
If your parent used to keep a neat home, but now you notice layers of dust, grubby floors or unwashed laundry piling up, something has changed. Mobility issues can cause anyone to slack off their chores. So can cognitive decline and depression. Vision changes can cause older adults to miss the expiration dates on food packages or new infestations of small pests like ants and pantry moths.
Possible solutions: You parent may need a checkup, extra help from family caregivers, mobility aids, new glasses, weekly visits from a house cleaner or other help.
- Changes in your Dad’s or Mom’s eating habits.
Most of us would rather not cook an elaborate dinner for one, but sometimes making even a simple healthy meal can be a challenge. If your parents are losing weight or leaving their food uneaten, try to find out why. Again, depression, mobility issues or vision changes can cause your parents to go for what’s easy instead of what’s healthy — or forget to eat altogether. Illnesses and medications can affect appetite, too, so try to get your folks to the doctor if you notice they’re not eating well.
Possible solutions: Your parents may need a grocery or prepared meal delivery, medical checkup or weekly homemaking help to plan menus, prepare or shop for meals. If your parents have a limited income and no one nearby to help with meals, contact the local Area Agency on Aging and Meals on Wheels to find out what services are available.
- Changes in your parents’ pets.
Pets can be a good indicator of how your folks are doing. If Fido’s coat and nails are now going ungroomed or the litterbox is consistently overdue for a cleanout, mobility or mood may be the cause.
Possible solutions: Help your parents keep track of their pet’s vet needs through an app like PetDesk, hire a pet-sitter to help with cleanup and walks, or arrange for regular doggie daycare for grooming and playtime.
- Changes in your parents’ social lives.
One of the hardest things about aging in place is maintaining a network of friends as everyone grows older. One of my great-aunts, in her early 90s, told me she was bored living at home in her small seaside town because she’d “outlived everyone I knew here.” For her, moving into assisted living was the boost she needed to recover her extroverted, upbeat outlook and make new friends. If your parents have gone from weekly church attendance and lunches with friends to sitting at home, the cause could be physical, emotional, cognitive, trouble driving—or a dwindling social network.
Possible solutions: Your folks may need new social opportunities. Many cities have senior centers where older adults go to enjoy movies, board games, fitness classes, and civic and political discussions. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at dozens of colleges around the US offer weekly lectures and seminars for students over 50 for a yearly fee. And every state has free or discounted college course options for older adults.
- Changes in your parents’ driving habits.
Driving is a lifeline for most suburban and rural residents, and giving it up can be traumatic unless you help them make alternate transportation plans. We have an entire post on knowing when it’s time for your folks to stop driving, how to get them to agree and how to help them stay active without a car.
- Unopened mail.
Stacks of unopened mail are a bigger warning than they might seem. Often, unopened mail means unpaid bills, which can mean a financial mess that needs sorting out. If your parents have friends and relatives who still practice the fine art of letter writing, unopened personal mail can be a sign of cognitive problems or depression. Learn more signs that your parents may need help with their finances.
Possible solutions: Help your folks go paperless and automate their bill payments, offer to help them sort out any problems with late payments and see if they need help reading letters or writing replies.