How To Tell If An Elder Needs Help

Five Signs An Elder Needs Help

Most people have fond thoughts about Grandma and Grandpa sitting at home relaxing and enjoying retirement.  When we see our elderly relatives on holidays or birthdays we are so busy enjoying our visit that we might not see some of the signs that your elder needs help in their day-to-day life.

If you have experienced this you are not alone.  Most people never know their elder needs help until a medical crisis arises. Statistics show it is usually a fall that causes the crisis. According to the CDC, about 2.5 millions Americans are treated for fall injuries in the emergency department each year.  700,000 of those people were hospitalized as a result of a fall.

Obviously falling can adversely effect an elder’s quality of life but there are other factors caused by the normal aging process that can drastically diminish quality of life-like malnutrition. According to the National Institutes of Health,”Prevalence rates have been estimated for the general hospital population to be between 11% to 44%, but this rises in elderly groups to 29%–61%”. It seems malnutrition is another risk factor common among the elderly.

Now that we have established some of the risks associated with aging, lets look at some of the warning signs the an elder needs help as a result.

Increasingly Poor Hygiene

An unordinary disheveled and messy appearance is not part of the normal aging process.  If your elder seems “not as together” as they normally are or “wearing dirty clothes” it could be a sign that they need daily help accomplishing Activities of Daily Living.  ADL’s as they are called among professional caregivers are those tasks you need to do every day to maintain good hygiene, nutrition and daily hygiene.  No one chooses to be messy or have an odor about them.  They might just need a little help from a family member or home health care provider.

Messy House

Not everyone is a great housekeeper.  Cleanliness is often in the eye of the beholder. If you ask my wife she will tell you I am a slob but I see it differently.  This warning sign goes beyond the subjective definition of cleanliness and focuses on the type of cleanliness necessary to maintain good health.

If you notice that grandma or grandpa allows garbage to pile up around the house or piles of books, papers and debris in major traffic areas then your elder needs help daily picking up around the house. A neglected pet can also be a clear sign that your elder is having trouble handling daily household chores.

Again this is not a normal sign of aging.  Instead it is a clear sign that your elder needs help and has an increased danger of experiencing a health care emergency.

Expired Food In The Refrigerator

Next time you are over at your elder’s house look in the fridge.  Is there curdling milk, moldy or unwrapped leftovers? Is the canned food well past its expiration date?  This could be a sign that your elder is having trouble preparing food on a daily basis.  It also could mean they are not eating as a result of a poor appetite which could be caused by another health problem.

If you see expired food, try to remove it right away and replace it with fresh food.  Have a conversation with your elder about how much they are eating and the challenges they are experiencing when preparing food.  Ask them how you can help.

Unexplained Bruising

While it is true that and elderly person’s skin gets more fragile with aging, bruising is not a normal occurrence.  Bruising could be the result of a recent fall.

It could also be the result of abuse.

It is vital that is you see a bruise on your elderly family member that you ask how they got it.  They may not tell you how they were injured for fear of embarrassment but you should persist.  Whether it is the result of a fall or abusive behavior, you should take action to protect them from further injury.

Not As Talkative

Some members of your family might comment that “Grandpa isn’t as talkative as he normally is.” Many folks think elderly folks don’t talk as much because they are hard of hearing or grumpy. While that may be true for a very few, it can also be a sign your elder needs help.

Dementia can occur as a result of a chronic disease like Alzheimer’s but can also be caused by a sudden change in health like a stroke or infection.  It is easy to overlook confusion in the elderly as a natural part of aging. That said if you notice a change in an elderly person’s ability to communicate you should encourage them to see a doctor as soon as possible. It could be the result of a new disease process or the acceleration of a chronic illness.

How To Talk About Getting Help

This can be a very difficult conversation for both the elder and their family member.  On one side is the elder who doesn’t want to burden family with their problems or embarrass themselves by admitting to failing health. On the other is the concerned family member who just wants their elder to be safe and healthy.

Don’t let the fear of embarrassment stop you from having this conversation with your elder.  Remember they need help and don’t know how to get it.  Stay patient with them, Talk gently to them. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Approach them with empathy and respect but most of all stay persistent.  You could be the only thing standing between getting them the help they need or having your next visit with them in the hospital.


About Tony Fischer

As an advocate for elders and their families, Tony has experience in the entire healthcare continuum. He has worked in hospitals, nursing homes, home care, hospice, and non-profits. His vast and unique experience led him to become a consultant that helps clients navigate the senior healthcare system. Tony also works hand and hand with healthcare providers to improve and streamline customer service. The company he founded with his wife Lori, Elder Advocacy Group Inc, advocates for seniors and senior health issues. They do this through the innovative concepts of Life Care Planning and Elder Care Coordination. Through these concepts Tony is able to help elders and their families plan to age successfully on their terms by protecting their right to choose the healthcare services they want provided in the place they want it. Tony shares his talents with other senior advocacy groups like the Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council where he advises a non-profit serving seniors in Wayne County, Michigan. He also produces FREE online content for seniors and their families