Bad Week or Downhill Slide? 7 signs your aging parent(s) need help

When you see your parents often, you may not notice a gradual decline. But your parent(s) may be getting to the point where they need more help.

Next time you visit, look for these 7 signs your parents need help:

• Does their home still meet Mom’s housekeeping standards? Or are there fingerprints on the doors, sticky spots and crumbs on the counter, floor, and kitchen table?
• Are a few of yesterday’s pills still sitting in the pill sorter?
• Are Dad’s clothes spotted and in need of washing? Are the kitchen and bathroom
towels dirty?
• Does the smell from the cat litter box or garbage hit you when you walk in the door?
• Does Mom frequently fix cereal or a can of soup for dinner, because, “It’s just too much trouble to cook?” Are the leftovers in the fridge going bad?
• Does Mom still get together with friends or neighbors? Does Dad still plan outings and enjoy some of his favorite pastimes?
• Is the mail stacking up? Are bills past due, even though your parents have the money?

Of course, you don’t want to go overboard—at the end of long week, your kitchen and bathroom probably need cleaning, too. And certainly, no one lapse is a reason to call out the cavalry. But if you regularly see a number of the scenarios described above, it may be a sign that your parent(s) are having trouble keeping up.

How to help—from family involvement to in-home care

The solution may be as simple as asking family members to get more involved—make a double batch of stew and bring half to Mom and Dad. Throw in a load of wash when you visit every week. Give Mom a gift certificate for a cleaning service, and then encourage her to have someone clean weekly or twice a month. That may be all the help they need right now.

But what if your aging parents’ needs are more extensive? Do you see signs of forgetfulness (skipped medications and unpaid bills) or poor grooming (greasy hair, clothes that need washing)? You and the other family members will try your best, but it’s very hard to provide daily care, when you’re also taking care of your children and working. You may need help bridging the gaps.

Perhaps you and your parents want to consider a home health aide, who can remind Mom or Dad about medications and help with bathing and grooming. Similarly, if your parent(s) are apathetic about eating and getting more isolated socially, they may benefit from companion or homemaker services—someone who can cook, clean, do laundry and keep your parent(s) company when you can’t. If someone else does laundry and cleaning, you’ll have more time to simply visit or have fun—maybe putting up seasonal decorations or shopping.

Each family’s needs are unique, and you’ll want to determine the right combination of support services to help your aging parents live in their home happily, comfortably and safely as long as possible.

For more insights into dealing with aging parents, visit To learn more about what community resources and service options are available to you, visit in Minnesota or for national resources for seniors.