October 29

Elderly Parents Living Alone: 53 Warning Signs


Our parents love us, support us, and watch out for us our whole lives — it’s hard to think of them aging and our roles changing.

Experiencing it and managing the changes can be difficult for anyone to accept and cope with. We don’t want to notice the dishes piling up or the stack of bills on the table.

When we do find the courage to ask, we are quick to accept their explanations. We want to hope things are ok and we’re not ready for them to change.

Their safety and quality of life could suffer if you ignore the warning signs.

If you think your Mom or Dad might be struggling with their day-to-day activities, keep reading and learn what to look for to see if your parents need some help.

Elderly Parents Living Alone: 53 Warning Signs

Being observant and discussing care options early are the keys to a smoother transition as your parents get older. Having that conversation with your Mom and Dad may be difficult for both of you, but it’s necessary.

It’s hard for them to give up the reigns and let their kids start making decisions for them. Remember to be understanding and respectful as your role in their lives starts to change.

Changes in Your Mom or Dad’s Appearance

Changes in our parent’s appearance are typically one of the first warning signs we notice.

Their basic hygiene may suffer as they start to have difficulty climbing in and out of their bathtub or become afraid they’ll fall.

Simple tasks like washing laundry may be too challenging. Bending over to pick up dirty clothes and lugging around a heavy laundry basket may not be worth the effort it takes.

Shaky hands can make simple tasks like adding detergent to the washer a messy hassle involving spills they can’t clean up easily.

Washing clothes and putting them away can be too much of a chore when reaching things up high or down low is a challenge. If you think your Mom or Dad could be experiencing any of these issues, check out the list below for some signs to look for.

Typical Warning Signs to Watch For

  • When you visit them you start to notice their clothes are visibly dirty, disheveled, or they have an odor.
  • A neighbor, friend, or relative might have commented on how they aren’t dressing appropriately for the weather.
  • If they are normally very particular about their grooming habits and then suddenly stop their routines, this could be a sign of a problem.
  • Laundry is piling up in various places around the house.
  • Closets and dressers are empty or don’t have many clean clothes inside.
  • Shampoo and Conditioner aren’t getting used and you are noticing the same bottles in the shower.
  • Toothpaste isn’t getting used and they haven’t bought a new toothbrush in awhile.
  • They are sponge bathing themselves instead of using the tub or shower.
  • Their bedding has an odor and doesn’t seem to have been washed recently.
  • They seem to be wearing the same clothes for multiple days.

Trouble in the Kitchen

Cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, and pulling items out of cabinets or drawers are chores we can do without much thought when we are young.

As we age, these types of kitchen tasks start to become increasingly harder to do. Cooking creates a constant mess that has to be cleaned up.

Grocery shopping means they have to get dressed, make a list, get in the car, drive to the store, push the cart, reach items high up and down low, pay the cashier, unload the bags into the car, drive home, and then unload and put everything away.

Trembling hands, weak or painful muscles and/or joints, and a foggy memory would make this almost impossible to accomplish without assistance.

If you think your mom, dad, or loved one could be struggling with any of these problems, read through the list below so you know what to look for.

Typical Warning Signs to Watch For

  • Dirty dishes are piling up in the sink and on the counters.
  • The floors are sticky or stained from spills.
  • Dirt and dust are piling up around and under appliances or other items on the counters.
  • Trash is piling up by the can that hasn’t been taken out for weeks or longer.
  • The fridge, freezer, and pantry are empty or barely stocked.
  • No dirty dishes or signs of cooking could indicate they aren’t cooking at all.
  • They have a stock of snacks, junk food, or easy to prepare meals.
  • They are having food delivered on a regular basis instead of cooking at home.

Indications of Financial Trouble

You may not realize how much of an impact aging can have on managing finances.

Memory problems or difficulty concentrating can cause your parents to miss due dates and forget payments altogether. They might even overpay because they don't remember making a payment.

Depression, anxiety, or simply believing the stories of con articles might cause them to spend money unwisely on charities or other purchases that you wouldn’t normally spend it on.

They could also suffer from mobility problems that make checking the mail harder to do, so they don’t see the bills on time.

Poor money management can lead to depleted finances and even dangerous situations if their power or water is disconnected. It’s important to check in and make sure your parents aren’t struggling.

Typical Warning Signs to Watch For

  • Bills are piling up on tables, counters, or designated mail areas.
  • The mailbox is stuffed full and hasn’t been checked recently.
  • You notice mail from unknown charities or organizations.
  • They are overspending on frivolous purchases.
  • They are being too generous with lending money to friends or relatives.
  • Checkbooks aren’t being maintained and they don’t know how much money they have in their accounts.
  • They have large amounts of cash hidden around their home.
  • They take out a bunch of loans or credit cards unexpectedly.
  • An unusual amount of packages are being delivered to their homes.

Neglected Chores

Chores inside and outside of the house get harder to do as your parents get older. Dusting furniture, sweeping and mopping floors, and even basic tidying up can be draining and painful.

The work involved with gassing up a mower and cutting the lawn can be impossible. Also, working outside in the heat could also pose a health risk or cause an injury.

Even when your parents are still managing day-to-day chores, you may find that some of the bigger jobs like cleaning gutters and trimming bushes are getting neglected.

Typical Warning Signs to Watch For

  • Dirt and dust are starting to take over all the surfaces around their home.
  • Floors are sticky, stained, or covered in dirt and don’t appear to have been swept or mopped recently.
  • Clutter is starting to appear more and more inside and outside the house.
  • The lawn hasn’t been mowed or maintained.
  • Flowerbeds and bushes that used to be meticulously looked after are starting to get overgrown.
  • Gutters are full of debris and/or in need of repair.
  • Trash is piling up on porches, walkways, driveways, or around outdoor trash cans.
  • The siding is filthy, has holes, cracks, or is in disrepair.
  • Door handles or hinges don’t function properly or get stuck.
  • Mirrors are dirty and haven’t been cleaned.
  • Toilets and showers aren’t staying clean.
  • Light bulbs aren’t being replaced when they go out.

Mobility Issues

Diminished mobility can lead to a lot of problems and a poorer quality of life. Your loved one might suddenly find it hard to maintain their balance and physical activities could cause them pain or make them exhausted.

If your loved one is having trouble getting around there are some simple things you can look out for that could clue you in.

Typical Warning Signs to Watch For

  • Activities and hobbies they used to enjoy are being ignored in favor of less physically demanding ones.
  • They are spending more time lazing around on the couch or in their favorite chair watching TV.
  • Your loved one has started to avoid leaving the house for necessary tasks like grocery shopping, paying bills, picking up prescriptions, or keeping doctor appointments.
  • They aren’t showering/bathing as often as they should be.
  • Chores around the house are being neglected and the house is falling into disrepair.
  • They seem unsteady when they are getting up or down out of chairs.
  • They have swapped clothing for easier items with fewer buttons and no laces.
  • Their favorite chair is “collecting” items around it where they don’t want to get up or down as frequently.

Difficulty Concentrating and Memory Loss

Memory loss and difficulty concentrating are difficult to handle and not something your loved one will want to admit to. Especially if it is your Mom or Dad.

Admitting that their mind is not as intact as it once was is never easy. Verbalizing this out loud can make them feel inferior and ashamed.

Before you try to start that conversation, make sure to look for evidence they are struggling with this.

Typical Warning Signs to Watch For

  • Doctor appointments are being missed or getting rescheduled constantly.
  • They have trouble remembering things they have done recently like paying bills, taking medications, feeding and caring for pets.
  • Traveling to places they normally frequent ends in them getting lost.
  • Items get purchased more than once because they didn’t remember buying it.
  • They are forgetting important dates like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.
  • Events or conversations that happened months or years ago are thought to have happened more recently.

Keep Learning

Discussing the need for your parents to make changes to their home, seek in-home care, or make changes in their living arrangements can be a hard conversation to have.

You need to educate yourself on the options available to you and your parents as they age and do this early before problems occur. The more you can plan ahead the smoother the transition will be.

Just remember, put yourself in their shoes. How will you feel when you are in their place and your kids are having to help you make these same decisions? Be as patient and supportive as possible without making compromises to their care or safety.

Don’t take on more than you can handle in a selfless act of love. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do for your parents.

For more information about how to start these difficult conversations, check out this post: Coping with Aging Parents and Family Dynamics.

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About the author

Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

President & CEO, Aging Life Care™ Manager

“I am dedicated to working with older adults and their families to maintain dignity and enhance their quality of life.”