10 Signs Your Aging Parent Can’t Live Alone
By Carolyn A. Brent, MBA
It’s a sad reality that, as we age, we become less independent than we once were––but for most blessed with longevity, it’s inevitable. With multiple millions of baby boomers throughout the U.S. caring for elderly parents, throngs of adult caregivers struggle with determining if their parent is fit to remain living alone. It’s a difficult, multi-faceted decision not to be made lightly, as there is much at stake––both the physical and emotional well-being of the parent in question and for the extended family at large.
To help ease the process of determining if an elderly parent should no longer live on their own, here are 10 tell-tale signs that can give you better peace of mind with making this all-important decision:
- Mom or Dad has always been a great housekeeper, but the house just doesn’t look like it used to: You may remember a parent who was constantly on you about tidying your room or putting things away after you were done with them. The house was always spotless and everything was organized, clean, and in its place. There was much pride in this fact. However, upon visiting with Mom or Dad today the home is decidedly cluttered and not nearly as clean as normal. Of course, this can mean a lot of things. Your parent may actually have an active social life and is more concerned with staying busy than tidying up. But, it could be a more ominous sign that your parent is having a difficult time keeping up with all the chores. She may feel overwhelmed or his physical health is slowing him down. Ask your parent if help is needed with the clutter, but do it in a nonchalant way that could prompt a conversation indicating assistance is needed here. Keep a keen eye to discern if the clutter and filth is getting worse with each visit––it’s often a key sign.
- The bills and other mail are piling up: While we all get busy––even those who are retired––basic tasks that were often dealt with quickly and easily when younger, but that are now falling by the wayside, is a sign that your older parent could be getting overwhelmed and not able to manage their daily affairs. This may also indicate some signs of forgetfulness and memory issues. Often, especially if a parent is alone without a spouse, they may not have someone to remind them to go through the mail and check to see if it’s time to pay certain bills.
- The checking account balance is wrong and bills are going unpaid: If the mail, with bills included, is piling up, there is a good chance that the bills are not getting paid. You may also discover amongst mail issues that your parent’s checking account ledger balance is wrong or in arrears. These are also signs that your parent is having memory issues or difficulty with simple math cognition. It can also indicate a general apathy––a mindset that can be equally problematic for someone with the glut of responsibility required to effectively live alone.
- Your parent is losing a lot of weight: A parent who may have lost their partner or who is generally depressed often loses interest in eating due to a reduced appetite. They may feel that it is not worth the hassle of shopping for and preparing meals if they are now living all alone. Accordingly, pay close attention to your parent’s weight. Also, check their refrigerator and pantry to see if there is an appropriate supply of food and that what is there is fresh and edible. If the cupboard is bare and your parent’s frame is shrinking, living alone might become problematic. At the very least, you may want to think about bringing groceries by or looking into a service that offers prepared meal delivery. Otherwise, you may have to think about putting them somewhere that helps them eat regular, healthy meals.
- They have forgotten the basics of hygiene: If you notice that your parent is wearing the same clothing day in and day out or that their hair or skin appears dirty on a fairly regular basis, they may have lost the motivation, ability and/or forethought to look after them self. Living alone, they may feel like they don’t have to dress up or clean up for anyone. Worse yet, they may have forgotten––or simply no longer care––that such personal hygiene and cleanliness is an important part of daily living and maintaining one’s good health.
- They appear in inappropriate clothing: While you may not share your mother or father’s sense of style, there is cause for concern if your parent dons summer clothing in the dead of winter or leaves the house in a nightgown and slippers for a trip to the store. This often happens when the elderly are suffering from confusion and lose the ability to have discretion in social situations. In this situation, wardrobe can be the least of the concerns as the problem manifests in other dangerous ways.
- There are signs of forgetfulness in the home: Confusion can also show up in the kitchen and can prove to be deadly if not dealt with quickly. All too often there are stories of older people who accidentally burned their houses down because they left a pot on the stove for hours and fell asleep or have flooded the home when they forgot to turn off the tap. Or, perhaps more subtly, the milk is in the pantry and the bread is in the refrigerator. These are all tell-tale signs that it may not be wise for your parent to be left home alone for extended periods of time.
- Your parent regularly misses appointments and other important items: Forgetfulness, absentmindedness, and memory issues may also show up when it comes to keeping certain appointments, recognizing key dates, or, even more importantly, maintaining medication dosages on schedule. This is a clear sign they need to live with someone who can help them stick to their schedules and stay on task.
- They are just acting plain weird: This is always the sign that families dread the most. No one wants to turn into the “crazy cat lady” or the “man who mutters to himself.” But, unfortunately, between aging, mental degradation, and the side effects from medication, you may note that your parent has lost their personality and their behavior has taken an odd turn for the worse. If you see signs of paranoia, fear, strange phone calls, and conversations and nervousness, this should not be overlooked as it’s a blatant sign that living assistance is in order.
- They exhibit signs of depression: There are a number of classic signs that can be connected with someone suffering depression. A loss of interest in caring for one’s self as well as a lack of participation in socialization and in once-loved hobbies can mean that your parent needs treatment or should reside in an environment where they can be around other people. Sometimes, depression comes from a sense of loneliness or the realization that they can no longer do things for themselves. Putting them somewhere that offers assistance, socialization, and activities can help cure the loneliness and put them back on track to a more fulfilling, active, and engaged life.
Aging and elder care authority Carolyn A. Brent, MBA, is the author of the acclaimed book “The Caregiver’s Companion: Caring for Your Loved One Medically, Financially and Emotionally While Caring for Yourself”––a “systems” book detailing outlining step-by-step processes so caregivers know what to do and what to ask in every situation that may arise. She may be reached online at www.CareGiverStory.com.