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Will you be able to recognize when a parent needs help before they are willing to admit it?

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

As your parents begin to reach the age when their physical abilities begin to fail, will you recognize the signs? The frequency that you talk to them, and more importantly, see them will have a significant impact upon your likelihood to spot the signs. Ironically, it is more likely that you would detect changes the less often that you see them. It is often the case in this situation for someone outside the family who does not interact with them who may notice a change first; this is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is entirely natural for someone with some distance from the situation to recognize a difference.

It is frequently the case that both you and your parents are the problem. This lack of acknowledgment is due to the very nature of the relationship that is inherent to parents and their children. You may be hesitant to accept where they are in life and even more reluctant to discuss the changes you have noticed. Your parent has likely been the one who has become so accustomed to advising you that they are unwilling to recognize that you may have something to offer them.

Here are five less obvious signs an elder needs some help.


They begin to touch a lot of objects while walking to steady themselves. This one may be a prelude to a fall or the result of a fall that they may or may not have disclosed. Regardless of the root cause, they have become less steady on their feet, and ignoring the situation will not make it go away. It is likely that this denial will cause them and you much more significant problems in the not so distant future. Cuts, bruises, broken bones, as we age, we all become more susceptible to such injuries. Many things can be incorporated into their home to reduce the likelihood of such events from happening. While none of them are guaranteed, many of them can add some peace of mind for you and them.


Are you still getting cards in the mail from a parent? Do you keep them? If you do, take a look at the last couple of years. If you don't, perhaps you should. You do not need to be a forensic document examiner to recognize that an elder's fine motor skills are starting to diminish. Have you been around when they are paying their bills? How long does it take them to fill out that check? Can you see the amount of concentration and effort that this act requires? I know each day, more people choose to put their financial matters on cruise control with automatic payments. In doing so, an opportunity is lost to spot an early sign of reduced physical abilities. That is what makes e-cards a villain in this situation as well. At the very least you can hope that birthday and holiday cards are still coming in the mail.


Changes in driving habits will likely show themselves in the area of parking. While many have never mastered the art of parallel parking, most have a reasonable grasp of angled or perpendicular parking. But what about unparking? Yes, it is a made up word, but often the act of backing out of a parking space is when many people have the most difficulty. Have you taken a look at your parents' or grandparents' car lately? Next time you have the opportunity, take a look at all four corners of their vehicle. Do you see a view scratches, paint transfer, a dent, or all of the above? It might be time to start finding ways to reduce their need to drive themselves.


Most of us will engage at some level in a little spring cleaning annually to declutter our homes. But what if that cleaning becomes more random and its frequency increases? Quite frequently, when someone begins to experience a level of acceptance regarding where they are in life, spontaneous gifting may start to appear. They may start offering their belongings to friends and family members. Or they may opt to increase giving their belongings to local charities. Regardless of how they start giving away their possessions, the real question is, why now? Have they been made aware of a health condition that you may or may not know? Are they just warming up for the final act of their life? It is good to understand the motivation for such actions. While you may get the brush off when looking for the answer, it should still put you on notice.


While this one gets harder every day as physical social interactions get replaced with virtual ones, it is essential to know the usual social activities of an elder. Being aware of any groups they belong to like a bowling league, book or gardening club, or a formal social organization, is worth keeping an eye on. If they belong to these or any other type of group that meets with some regularity, you need to know if they start to withdraw their participation. If they do not participate in such activities, it could be wise to try to get an elder to engage with such a group. Laughter is the best medicine, but sitting by yourself laughing is just going to get you a straight jacket or a rubber room. Getting an elder to join an organized activity also gives you as the future caretaker an added bit of insight into where your elder stands in social settings.

Get more details on these issues and more in Death and Taxes: Fallout from the Baby Boom.

Please let me know if this post gave you something to consider in the comments below. Good or bad let me know what you think, this is about starting a dialogue. If this post made you think about your own relationships or those of someone you know like and share it with them. If you are interested in other topics check out some of my previous posts and subscribe to get email notifications of new posts.

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