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Peggy Flannigan Ph.D.
Peggy Flannigan Ph.D.

How to Know If Your Elderly Parent Is No Longer Safe at Home

Nine things to look out for to determine whether your parent should leave home.

What was once a bustling home with kids running around, toys strewn all over the floor and dogs barking has turned into an empty nest. The house that was once full of laughter and energy has become quiet and now your parents are living alone. It has been quite a few years since the kids have moved out to start their own families and now you’re wondering if maybe your parents should be thinking about a move into assisted living. Though this should be decided on an individual basis, here are a few signs that could mean your parents are no longer safe to live at home alone.

Confusion with Medications

Have you noticed disorder in their medications that may be sitting out on the counter, or that perhaps they haven’t taken their medication at all? Though it may be true that as the years add up, the list of medications tends to grow and may be more difficult for the older person to manage. If your older family member seems confused by all their mediations, it may be time for them to receive assistance through medication help from the pharmacy or even in a senior home.

Frequent Falls

Falls are an often-overlooked sign of an impending disaster for an older person. A fall can injure the spine, hip, pelvis, or knees, often leading to other complications such as pneumonia or stroke due to the decreased mobility that may result. If you notice unexplained bruising, don’t ignore the underlying cause which may be falls. Your older relative may no longer be safe to live at home alone.

Loss of Sight

Is their eyesight getting worse? Can they no longer read the labels on their medication bottles or pills? Friends of mine have mentioned finding their older relative’s medication “boxes” in a disorganized jumble with extra pills in some days and few to none in others. Even if they only have seemingly general eyesight issues, it may be time to consider an alternate living facility such as independent, assisted, or nursing home.

Unexplained Purchases

Have you noticed high credit card charges or unexplained bills? If your parent has been claiming to not have enough money to pay other bills, it may be that they need someone to hold them accountable and keep an eye on them on a daily basis. I know of one older person whose family learned she had been ordering gadgets that she simply could not afford from TV advertisements. In such cases, you may have to contact the business and ask to have the family member’s name removed from the solicitation list.

Prolonged Reclusiveness

Have they been demonstrating a tendency to not go out? If an elderly parent has become isolated from friends and social activities, it is important to investigate the cause. As they age, they may have lost their social circle due to deaths or others moving closer to children or into care facilities. As this occurred, they may have lost their desire to be an active part of their community. This may be the same person who gave up their driving privilege and no longer goes out to socialize with friends and family who still remain close by. Healthy relationships with friends and family have intangible benefits on health and should not be disregarded or belittled. Assisted living homes could help them to seek out new friends and relationships as well as offering a variety of activities to stimulate the residents.

Poor Appearance

If an elderly parent who has a reputation for looking sharp and dressing impeccably has suddenly stopped ‘looking after themselves’, this may be an indication of a health problem or simply lack of interest in his or her appearance and surroundings. It is certainly worthy of further investigation and perhaps a sign that he or she is unable to take care of those details. Maybe they have stopped caring about their appearance or maybe they simply need help getting ready in the morning and winding down at night. An assisted living facility might be the solution.

Messy House

The house that was once spotless and squeaky clean has become cluttered. When you come to visit you notice unopened boxes on the floor, groceries not put into cupboards, and clothing strewn all over the living room sofa. Their lack of care for the environment could indicate that the house they once took great pride in maintaining, has become a burden. It now depletes energy that your elderly parent cannot afford to expend on household duties. This clutter could potentially lead to something much more serious in the future. As the clutter builds, so also is the risk for falls and other issues such as illness related to spoiled food and vermin.

Missed Appointments

You planned that lunch two weeks in advance and even made a reservation but your elderly family member didn’t show. When you called to ask why, they were confused and said they didn’t even remember scheduling the lunch date. Have they also missed doctors’ appointments? Though missed lunch dates can be rescheduled, a missed doctors appointment could have serious consequences down the road- such as an undetected health issue not receiving timely attention and care.

Concerned Friends

The friends of your elderly parent are concerned and give you a call to ask if you’ve noticed the same things they’ve noticed about your elderly parent. Up until this point you thought the strange signs like missed appointments, a messy house, or poor appearance were just simple forgetfulness. But now that others are voicing their concerns, it may be time to take a closer look at other options.

Undoubtedly, parents consider their house to be the family base. After all, this is where their children grew up. If you bring up the option of assisted living, they might think that giving up their home will mean losing touch with family. But reassure them that that will not happen. Take them to visit their friends who have already moved into senior homes. Show them that they can still have a great life outside of their family home. Allow your parents to take their belongings with them and help them to feel as though the assisted living is their new and welcoming home.

Unfortunately many families often take too long to make this decision. But family members should understand that it is for the best if an elderly parent moves into a senior home if they are no longer safe to live alone.

My 96-year-old relative decided at age 95 to try an independent living facility “for a month” trial basis. After one month, he realized he needed more help than he could get in Independent Living, so he moved to the Assisted Living wing of the same facility. After a month there, he instructed the family to close his house because he wanted to stay. He said, “If more people realized what they can do for you in assisted living, they wouldn’t wind up in the nursing home because they waited too long!” He has made friends with a 99-year-old gentleman who he met during his month in independent living. They were from the same town but hadn’t socialized in years. Now, they eat lunch together every day.

Please feel free to check out the Bradley University site to find out more info.

About the Author
Peggy Flannigan Ph.D.

Peggy Flannigan, Ph.D., is a professor at Bradley University.

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