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Signs Your Elderly Parent Needs Help

As our parents grow old, the energy and flexibility they used to depend on can become challenged. They might acquire a sickness that depletes their physical energy, so they’re not as active as they used to be. Or, they could have injured a part of their body or lost their strength due to old age.


Whether or not an elderly parent requires eldercare assistance will depend on many factors. And, it’s different for everyone.


“I think [the signs of decline] really differ for every person, from what I’ve seen in my practice,” Jennifer Reckrey, MD, an associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Health.


According to Dr. Reckrey, the main thing to watch out for is a significant change. “Someone who’s been one way their whole life, concerned with their appearance, or always on top of birthdays, and then that starts to change,” the doctor said.


Here are some of the most common signs your elderly parent needs help.

Drastic Changes in Physical Appearance

A clear sign that your elderly parent might need help are drastic physical changes. It might be a sudden weight loss, or they have a hard time keeping their appearance tidy.

Sudden weight changes

Typically, you’ll see this as a sudden weight loss (though it could also be a rapid weight gain). This might mean their appetite has decreased, they’ve lost their sense of smell or taste, they might have difficulty preparing their meals, or they keep forgetting to eat. The bottom line is that they’re having a struggle to eat right.


You might need to talk to a doctor to get to the core of their eating problems. The reason might be as simple as they need help preparing their meals or assistance with their finances or grocery shopping. Or, it could be something serious.


“This is commonly seen in early dementia or untreated depression,” Dr. Norm Goody, an emergency room doctor, pain and palliative care specialist and former hospice medical director, told Care. “Or it could be the sign of a serious underlying medical condition that is being neglected, like cancer.”


Declining or worsening health conditions

If your elderly parent takes a longer time to recover from sickness or injury, or their health is significantly declining, then it might be time to consider full-time care or assisted living for them.


They may also be paler or have unusual expressions on their faces. Talk to a doctor about the possibility of anemia or stroke.

Struggling with personal care

If your parent has always valued their physical appearance and how they present themselves and then suddenly you see them unkempt or untidy, something is up. Investigate if they’re still able to do their daily hygiene and other self-care routines like bathing and brushing their teeth. If not, find out what the root cause is. Do they experience pain when they move or are they limited in any way physically?


This decline in personal hygiene could be a sign of their growing inability to take care of themselves, physical impairments, dementia or depression. You’ll also see this manifest in piles of laundry, old and expired food or a lack food.

Decreased Mobility or Issues with Their Movement

As parents grow old, their movements become slower and they might begin to lose their balance. They might struggle to walk or have an unbalanced gait or experience pain when they move. Or, they might develop a tendency to drop things and have become more clumsy lately.


Physical frailty is a common problem when a parent becomes elderly. It becomes a barrier to their independence and might be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as joint pain or muscle weakness.


Unsteady movement might cause them to fall or injure themselves, which could lead to disability. If this is the case, then you’ll likely see bruises on their body that they can’t seem to explain or remember how they got them. Mobility issues increase the risk of injuries, so you might want to consider getting a physical therapist or assistive devices.


“When spending time with your loved one, pay attention to how they move from sitting to standing and how they navigate their home,” Dr. Victoria Leigh, an internal medicine physician with Providence 65+ Health Center in California, told U.S. News & World Report. “If you see (them having) difficulty moving around the home or many small objects, mats or furniture items around the house, discuss how to best clear a path to prevent injuries and falls.”

Problems with House and Yard Upkeep

Take a look at the state of their house. Is it in order and clean? If not, it might be an indication that they need help.


Things to look out for include:

  • Piles of laundry
  • Clutter
  • Dirty dishes
  • Old or expired food
  • Neglected pets


Basically, any house chores left undone means they might be overwhelmed and require assistance. They might be suffering from physical limitations, cognitive issues or fatigue. Or, these could be a sign of depression, dementia or other concern.


“With my own grandfather, we knew something was off when we took a look at his desk,” Heather Prinzel, director of nursing with the Orlando Health Center for Rehabilitation in Florida, told U.S. News & World Report. “He was normally a very organized man, especially with his bills, but we found checks everywhere, and then we found them written to all different organizations in varying amounts.”

Mental or Cognitive Decline

Forgetfulness afflicts everyone from time to time, but this is especially pronounced in the elderly. This could also be a side effect of medication or a symptom of some medical condition.


In the elderly, you’ll see this cognitive or mental decline as:

  • Excessive memory loss
  • Increasing confusion
  • Difficulty managing medications
  • Missing doctor’s appointments
  • Inability to follow instructions
  • Forgetting to pay the bills
  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Loss of reasoning skills

If they get upset because of their memory loss, that’s a sign of cognitive decline. If their forgetfulness disrupts their daily life, you might be dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Changes in Their Behavior

An elderly parent who might need help will likely display the following behavioral changes:

  • Severe mood swings – They might get angry or cranky easily.
  • Tendency to isolate – They don’t like going out with other people anymore and prefer to stay at home. Or, they’ve suddenly lost interest in hobbies or other activities that they used to enjoy.


  • Changes in sleep pattern – If they’re having trouble sleeping, they might suffer from anxiety or other medical conditions. Lack of sleep can cause weight gain and can increase their risk of getting sick.


  • Delirium or imaging things – They exhibit an altered state of mind. This delirium can be a side effect of some medications or a symptom of underlying conditions, such as insomnia, constipation, chronic pain or dementia.