University of Vermont

College of Medicine

The Center on Aging


Signs Elders Need Help

Adult children sometimes experience a rude awaking when first discovering their aging parents just are not able to function as they once did. For children who do not see their parents often, this can be particularly upsetting.


"Kids who live far away or who rarely see their parents are often times shocked to find that the person who seemed so normal or healthy on the phone is actually in pretty bad shape," says Christina Chartrand, vice president of training and staff development at Senior Helpers, an in-home senior care service.

Most of the time, it's glaringly obvious when older adults need medical or professional assistance. But sometimes it's less obvious when they just need a little extra help.

As such, Chartrand has provided Aging New Alert with the following list of "warning signs" that caregivers can use to help them determine whether an older adult can use a helping hand.

Poor Eating Habits

A decrease in appetite isn't unusual for someone who is getting on in years, but it's still an issue that needs close attention, Chartrand tells Aging News Alert. Eating less could simply be a result of not needing as much food. However, it could also be a symptom of depression.

This is sometimes a hard warning sign to spot -- especially when older adults dine in large groups (e.g., family outings, picnics, etc.). That's why it's important to pay attention to an elderly loved one's cooking habits as well his or her eating habits.

Neglected Hygiene

Like eating habits, this warning sign can show up in a number of ways with a couple of possible causes. Check to see if all the laundry is getting done. If not, is it just too difficult for the older adult to load and unload clothes from the washing machine and dryer, or are they forgetting to do it altogether? Forgetfulness is one of the many early signs of dementia.

Body odor and neglected nails and teeth are also noticeable warning signs.

Neglected Home

This is generally an easy warning sign to spot and usually means the older adult just needs a little extra help taking care of the house. Cluttered living rooms probably aren't anything to worry about, but be sure to check for proper cleanliness in the kitchen and bathroom. Often times, the parts of a home that go unused will be as orderly as ever, says Chartrand, but it's high traffic areas that need attention.

Acting Out

Acting out can take many forms, but often is manifested in speech that is too loud, speech that is too soft, and/or paranoid behavior. Also make sure that the older adult is making socially conscious decisions. For example, are they making phone calls at inappropriate hours?

Acting out is another early sign of dementia. The senior might have good days, where he or she behaves normally, and bad days, where he or she is out of sorts or displays some of odd behavior.

Change in Relationship

A noticeable change in a senior's relationships can also be warning sign that he or she may need some assistance. Does the older adult go out as often to community events, senior center, church, etc.? Does he or she keep in touch with friends and family?

Injuries Resulting from Weakness/Misuse of Medicine

The human body naturally becomes frailer as it ages, but small injuries can be a sign that an older adult needs some help with everyday tasks. Burns from late reaction times and bruises from falls are tell tale signs that an elderly person may need help.

Scorched Pots and Pans

This is another sign of forgetfulness that can be just as dangerous as forgetting to take important medications. Leaving the oven on is a fire hazard and shouldn't be taken lightly.

Unopened Mail

Yet another sign of forgetfulness, unopened mail can lead to unpaid bills, missed doctor appointments and other important activities.

Mishandled Finances

This is often harder to spot since it has the potential to embarrass. Check to see whether bills are being paid on time -- and make sure they aren't being paid twice. Lost cash or hidden money may be signals that someone needs to step in and help with the finances. -- Brandon Stumbo

For more information about warning signs and Senior Helpers, visit

Last modified July 14 2014 01:42 PM