It’s a sad reality that — as people are living longer — we become less independent as the years go by.
With multiple millions of baby boomers throughout the U.S. caring for aging parents (and aging themselves), throngs of adult caregivers are struggling to determine if a parent or loved one 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 older adult in question and for the extended family at large.
To help determine if an elderly person should no longer live on their own, here are 10 signs to watch for when making this all-important decision, courtesy of Carolyn A. Brent, an eldercare authority and author of Why Wait? The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Preparing Emotionally, Financially & Legally for a Parents’ Death.
1: Tidiness slips: Mom or Dad has always been an excellent housekeeper, but the house just doesn’t look like it used to. The home is decidedly cluttered and not nearly as clean. Of course, this can mean a lot of things. Your parent may actually have an active social life and is more concerned about staying busy than tidying up.
But it could be a more ominous sign that your loved one is having a difficult time keeping up with all the chores. She may feel overwhelmed. His physical health may be slowing him down.
Ask your parent or loved one if help is needed with the clutter, but do it in a nonchalant way to prompt a conversation. Keep a keen eye out for little details to discern if the clutter is getting worse each time you visit.
2: Mail keeps piling up: We all get busy — even those who are retired. But when basic tasks that were often dealt with quickly and easily during those younger days fall by the wayside, it could be a sign that an older adult is getting overwhelmed, and isn’t able to manage daily affairs. This problem may also indicate some issues with memory problems.
3: Bills go unpaid: If the checking account balance is wrong and bills are going unpaid, this can be a red flag for spotting memory issues or a newfound difficulty with math cognition. It can also indicate a general apathy — a mindset that can be equally problematic for someone with the responsibility required to effectively live alone.
4: Weight loss occurs: Though some decrease in appetite is normal among older adults, losing a lot of weight suddenly is cause for concern. Pay close attention to your loved one’s weight. Also, check the refrigerator and pantry to see if there’s an appropriate supply of food — and that what’s there is fresh and edible. Think about bringing groceries by, look into a service that offers prepared meal delivery or consider finding a housing option that provides regular, healthy meals.
5: Hygiene lapses: 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 take care of basic hygiene. Living alone, they may feel like they don’t really need to dress up or clean up for anyone.
6: Clothing choices seem odd: While you might not share your mother”s or father’s sense of style, there’s 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 older adults lose the ability to use discretion in social situations due to cognition issues.
7: Forgetfulness causes problems: You may have heard stories of older people who accidentally burn their houses down because they left a pot on the stove for hours and fell asleep — or about others who have flooded a home by forgetting to turn off the tap. At some point, it can become unwise for your parent to be left home alone for extended periods of time. Watch for earlier signs of confusion, such as milk being placed in the pantry versus the refrigerator or other unusual or unsafe situations in the home.
8: Appointments go unattended: Forgetfulness, absentmindedness and memory issues may also show up when it comes to keeping certain appointments, recognizing key dates or — even more important — maintaining medication dosages on schedule.
9: Behavior changes: This is always the sign that families dread the most. A parent begins acting just plain weird. You might notice your parent has lost his or her personality or their behavior has taken an odd turn. If you see signs of paranoia, fear, nervousness and strange phone calls and conversations, living assistance may be in order.
10: Depression sets in: 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 with other people. Sometimes, depression comes from a sense of loneliness or the realization they can no longer do things for themselves. Assistance, socialization and activities can help cure that loneliness and put them back on track to a more fulfilling, active and engaged life.
Carolyn A. Brent is an American author, bodybuilder and eldercare expert. She’s also the founder of Caregiver Story and Grandpa’s Dream, two nonprofits geared toward supporting caregivers. Her next book — Transforming Your Life Through Self-Care: A Guide To Tapping into Your Deep Beauty and Inner Worth — comes out in May 2019. Learn more at caregiverstory.com.