COVID-19 Alert: Manage caregiver stress during this health crisis. Learn More.
Call 888-575-0946 for Home Instead services in your area.
Sharing is Caring:

10 Signs a Senior May Be in Trouble

Troubled looking senior man
How can you tell if your senior loved one needs extra help?

Find home care near you or your loved one:

Many seniors do not ask for help - particularly because they often fear that they will be a burden to their families or lose their independence. Therefore, it is very important that their caregivers, grown children or other family members look for signs that may indicate that they need some assistance in their everyday lives.

More than half (52%) of family members presently caring for an older relative started doing so because the senior relative had an injury, illness or medical condition that left them less able to function independently. However, there are other issues, such as depression, poor nutrition, death of a spouse, isolation or loneliness that can further compromise an older relative's physical and mental health in just a short period of time.

So how can you tell if your senior loved one needs extra help? Below are 10 signs that you're older relative may need assistance:

  1. Household bills piling up - Seniors can feel overwhelmed by the simple task of opening and responding to daily mail, as well as balancing a checkbook, particularly if eye sight is deteriorating or if this was once the responsibility of a now-deceased spouse. This can result in overdue bills, bounced checks, utilities being turned off due to lack of payment and other creditor issues.
  2. Reluctance to leave the house - Rather than ask for help, seniors who are having trouble, e.g. walking, remembering directions, seeing, or hearing, will slowly pull away from their community/friends and isolate themselves. If left unresolved, this isolation can lead to loneliness and depression, as well as malnutrition and other health concerns.
  3. Losing interest in preparing/eating meals - Seniors who suddenly find themselves alone, who have become lonely over time or are easily overwhelmed by cooking, tend not to eat properly. One sign that poor eating habits are forming is improper selection of food in the house (not well-balanced), expired or rotten food in the refrigerator or signs of excessive weight loss (clothes much looser). An aging person may eat enough calories to get by, but may suffer nutritionally, including increasing cholesterol and lowering vitamin intake. Studies have found that poor diet can increase the risk of dementia in seniors and weaken the immune system.
  4. Declining personal hygiene - Changes in appearance are the most obvious sign that some assistance is needed. These signs can range from unkempt hair and body odor, to unshaven faces and wearing clothing that is unclean, unchanged for days or inappropriate for the weather. These changes may occur because doing the laundry or getting in an out of the tub has become too physically challenging. Many who live alone also fear slipping and falling in a shower or bathtub with no one to help him or her get up.
  5. Decline in driving skills - Look for evidence of parking or speeding tickets, fender-benders, dents and scratches on the senior's car as signs that driving skills may be deteriorating. Decreased ability to see, poor sense of direction, inability to merge into traffic, driving way under the speed limit and slow reaction time is a recipe for disaster with senior driving.
  6. Signs of scorched pots and pans - This may be a sign of short-term memory loss or even the onset of Alzheimer's, as pots used in cooking are forgotten on the open flame of the stove and burn. Besides the danger of falls, this is probably one of the greatest safety concerns (fire) that families of older relatives face.
  7. Symptoms of depression - Depression causes marked changes in behavior and one's daily routine over time. Many seniors feel isolated, like prisoners in their own home, particularly if a health condition or the deaths of close friends or a spouse keeps them from going to the places they once enjoyed. Feelings of hopelessness or despair, increased listlessness, and not wanting to get dressed can all be indications of a problem. Other signs include decreased visits with family members and friends, change in sleeping patterns (sleeping long periods or not sleeping at all) and lack of interest in usual hobbies and activities.
  8. Missed doctors' appointments and social engagements - While this can be a symptom of increased forgetfulness, it is often simply a result of not having transportation and not knowing how to access transportation options on their own.
  9. Unkempt house - Changes in housekeeping may occur simply because it is too difficult or tiring. This is especially troubling if a parent used to keep the house neat and orderly or if a now-deceased spouse was responsible for these duties. From dirty laundry to dirty dishes, these everyday tasks become too much to handle on their own.
  10. Losing track of medications - Missed doses and medication mistakes (overdosing and running out of pills before the next prescription can be refilled) can lead to very serious medical complications. Older people often take multiple prescriptions for various health conditions, which can be overwhelming without assistance and reminders.

It is crucial that family members keep an eye out for their older loved ones and know how and when to assist them, even if the senior doesn't reach out and ask for the help himself.

For more information and safety tips visit Senior Magazine.

Last revised: April 12, 2010

Get helpful tips and articles like these delivered to your email.

Thoughts and stories from others
  1. September 22, 2010 at 11:17 am | Posted by Om Sharma

    Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Old? Never think we are old. We are made weak by time and fate but not in 'will'. Happiness comes from within. With more age,we gain more experience and have more valuable life. Enjoy your life, guide lovely little children and pray 'God'for his blessings.


  2. September 20, 2010 at 12:12 am | Posted by LEE

    l am 80yr. old. some say,s idont look like it, some time i offer thim my glssie,s .as far as i know ,i,am the first femail to live to see my children all eight get full grown with about 20 are more grand,s and about 36great grand,s some,great,greatgrand.i am so thankful,you see i have heart problem,s,.thank you all for your time.


  3. September 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Posted by Jo Richards

    Getting Old -Foxworthy talks about Anal Seepage. it aint funny. I spend so much time trying to be alert and efficient I cant get anything done. My five children cannot begin to keep up with me. but I cannot tell you how many times they say little things like what they have planned for my future. I love Senior Center. They are all so dippy, it makes me feel good to know Im not one of them. So I go there often. Thanks for your story.


  4. September 2, 2010 at 1:48 am | Posted by Diane Kelley

    When my husband left me after 35 yrs of marriage and we lost our home and he left town, I came to live with my MOM. I'm an only child and Mom and I have always been close, never any arguments. She's the best Mom in the world. I am 63yrs old and Mom just turned 90. Dad died 29yrs ago. Mom got me through these very tough years and I think she felt she was helping "care for" me. She's the youngest and only living one of her siblings. She's been a care taker all her life. In the past few years there have been many signs of her aging and she has noticed them also. She has always been in good health and I think she is even now because her Dr told me she is. The problem is one I created myself with out even knowing it. I have been doing everything here around the house including bringing her lunch in on a tray while she is watching her soap operas. At first she had started bringing me breakfast in and I sure didn't want her waiting on me but now looking back on it when she was doing more she felt better and didn't keep complaining about every little ache and pain. Now she expects me to wait on her 24/7 and she aches from sitting in that La Z Boy chair all day and evening. She has some problems with her bowels but if she takes a little Maalox in the morning and a bit before bed she's ok. However she has somehow turned her night/day times around. She dozes off and on all morning and afternoon and down right sleeps most of the evening including snoring and dreaming. Then she goes right to sleep after the Late Show but wakes up several times during the night to go to the bathroom and with so much pain in her lower abdomen and back. Every morning she greets me with boy what a night she had...she'll say "I've NEVER had a night like that before!" She does get on the treadmill sometimes and we go out to a fast food place every evening for our salads but other than that and church she doesn't want to go visit anyone or go shopping or go anywhere. She does not even nearly look her age and is complimented by everyone who is told her age but just the past few years she has dwelt on the negative side of everything..I have many medical problems but I don't complain and she has always been healthy but now complains every waking minute of the day. I think she does it without even knowing it. Her memory is really getting bad and she notices it and worries about that too. Her hearing is really bad now. The tv is so loud all day and all evening that I have to use ear plugs or at the least put cotton in my ears. I am really afraid I will lose my own hearing. But she wants me to stay home and watch tv almost all the time. The Dr told me this isn't good for me and that I should make a point of getting out for some "me Time". Mom didn't like that at all but now she is dealing with it. She's like a little kid if I bring something home for her when I come back,usually some treat. Are all these actions just part of aging or do you think she is headed for some kind of lose of mental abilities?


  5. August 30, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Posted by Jerry Reid

    I know how she felt. My wife paid all the bills until she died Jan.4,2007, and I will be 76 years old on Sept.6,2010. Fortunataly I am in fairly good health, but my only daughter lives in Arizona, and I live in Colorado.It is too hot in Phoenix for me, so I am here and as I own three houses here I am stuck alone. I do visit a lot of people as I volunteer to do home repair work for elderly people that can't affored to hire the work done through our senior citizens run by the city.


  6. August 30, 2010 at 10:09 am | Posted by FRANCES MARTINEZ

    Very enjoyable, and thoughtful. I am 83, never having to run affairs, as my husband did everything-now that I am alone, my son has taught me to bank on line, explore the state where I have moved to be by him, and mowes my lawn, and also, checks my frig about 2 times a week, looking for rotten food. I feel very lucky to have such a good outlook, until I exit this ball of dirt, I am grateful for all the good LORD has allowed me to have.


Share your thoughts, stories and comments:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *