Recognizing the Signs of Aging


by Harvey J. Kulka, Owner, Home Instead Senior Care, Spartanburg and Cherokee Counties

One of the most common questions I hear is, “When do I know that my mother or father needs help at home?” Actually it’s as simple as looking around for signs that your elderly loved one needs help. Missing these warning signs will likely lead to problems for you and the loss of independence that your parents are trying to avoid.

How do you recognize the signs of aging and need for care for your parents? Here are the physical, emotional, behavioral, and environmental changes to look for:

  • Do your parents seem tired all the time? Persistent fatigue and loss of energy are physical signs that your parent might be struggling and in need of assistance. 
  • Are your parents still engaged in their usual social activities? Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies could be a signal of depression or an underlying physical health issue that is causing them to back away from the things they once enjoyed.
  • Have you noticed a major change in mood or outlook? Do your parents go from happy to crying in seconds or come across as  more irritable and grumpy than normal?
  • Do your parents have difficulty getting up or standing? See if their gait has changed and take a closer look at bathroom towel bars, window sills and shower curtains. If your senior is having trouble getting off the toilet they could have developed a several-step process of using one or more of these items for support.
  • Have you noticed that your parents are losing weight or have very little appetite? Check the kitchen for junk food or items that are easy to prepare but are lacking in nutritional value. Your parents could be putting themselves at risk that will lead to more serious health issues.
  • Look at your parents’ appearance. If anything seems off, such as failure to keep up with daily good grooming habits, it could be a sign of depression, dementia or other health issues.
  • Check for diminished driving skills such as slow response time or rolling through stop signs. If driving skills are impaired due to physical ailments, this can put your loved one’s life at risk and put the lives or others in danger as well.
  • Note signs that demonstrate difficulty concentrating or memory loss. This may include a lack of interest in reading, missed appointments, mishandled medications, or repeated phone calls at odd hours.
  • Watch for situations that indicate poor judgement. For example, deciding against going to the doctor because your parent “just went last week,” even though it was an appointment with another doctor for a different health issue.
  • Look for evidence or poor housekeeping and lack of home maintenance.
  • Check the refrigerator, freezer and drawers. Make note if food has spoiled or if there is nothing there because your parent can’t get to the grocery store.
  • Inspect the top of furniture and counter tops. Dishes piling up and dust and dirt are signs that household tasks are becoming more difficult and are therefore going undone.
  • Look down at floors and stairways. See if shaky hands have spilled drinks and food soiling vinyl, wood, carpet and walkways.
  • Examine the mail. Ensure bills are being paid and correspondence answered.

Taking Action 

Any of these signs may cause frustration and concern. Most importantly these clues indicate that something needs to be done to help your loved one remain independent.

  1. Share your concerns with your loved one. Talk to your parent openly and honestly. It may be helpful to include others who care about your loved one in the conversation. 
  2. Encourage a medical checkup. If you noticed a number of the physical warning signs such as weird loss or depressed mood, encourage your loved one to schedule a doctor visit.
  3. Address any safety issues around the home. Start by pointing out your concerns about safety and then make a plan to resolve them. You may need to consider installing a grab bar in the bathroom to prevent falls or a hand rail on the outside steps.
  4. Consider home care services. This is particularly important if your loved one is having trouble taking care of personal grooming or can’t get to the store. In-home care services include everything from cleaning the house and preparing meals to running errands and assisting with daily activities such as bathing and dressing.