It can be troubling to see your parents decline as they age, especially since they are often reluctant to admit how much help they need. They may not even recognize how they could benefit from support, especially if their decline is gradual. If you don’t get to visit your parents regularly, it can be shocking to see the changes in sudden bursts. Sometimes, someone who sees the older person less frequently first recognizes the need for a change.

Things to watch for when visiting your parents:

Physical Appearance

Are they clean and presentable? Not keeping up with daily hygiene routines often signals physical, mental, or emotional decline. They may forget to shower, or maybe getting in and out of the tub is too difficult. Perhaps gripping a brush or a razor presents problems. Depression also affects the motivation to groom in a typical manner.

Do you notice significant weight changes? Shopping and cooking can become difficult with arthritis, fatigue, swallowing problems, loneliness, and other challenges. Also, some develop digestive issues. Some people’s taste diminishes with age, and they may start adding more salt and fats to food to compensate.


Pay attention to your parents’ movements. Can they climb stairs, walk without stumbling, and get up and down easily? Unsteadiness increases the risk of falling, which can result in serious injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control, injuries from falling represent one of the main causes of older adults needing emergency care. Many issues cause falling, including poor vision, poor housekeeping, neuropathy, poor muscle tone, vertigo, and disorientation. Breaking a hip or getting a traumatic brain injury is often a turning point in a person’s ability to live independently. An older person’s fall can lead to death if they hit their head on a table, counter, or hard floor and nobody finds them.

Energy Level

Can your parents walk a mile or more without stopping? Can they do two hours of light housework without resting? Do they get up at a normal time and go through the day without needing to nap? A lack of energy can point to all kinds of challenges. They may not sleep well at night because of incontinence, apnea, or anxiety. A lack of stamina may indicate respiratory diseases like pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, or nutritional deficiencies. Depression and loneliness diminish energy levels too.

Home Environment

A neglected yard or repairs, a cluttered or dirty house, and unpaid bills could be clues that things are not quite right. Is there fresh food in the refrigerator? Unpaid bills could lead to utilities getting shut off and insurance lapses. An unkempt house can lead to falls, mold, and vermin infestation. A neglected yard may cause legal action against the property owner.

Cognitive Difficulties

Everyone loses their keys or forgets things occasionally. However, having trouble with common words, getting lost in a familiar neighborhood, or not being able to follow directions could indicate something serious. Memory loss is not always dementia—many medical issues and their treatments can present with memory loss or confusion. Stress, a lack of sleep, and pain make it hard to think.

Emotional Health

Are your parents engaging socially? Do they have interests and hobbies? Do they seem sad, agitated, anxious, or worried about the future? Emotional and physical health affect one another, leading to a downward spiral. The good news is that changing one often helps the other.

Action Steps

If you see things that concern you, talk to your parents. Have an honest conversation about what you notice. Ask them if they are aware of any changes.

  1. Encourage regular medical check-ups and possibly a medical assessment. You may want to go with your parents and discuss the results and suggestions with the doctor.
  2. Address any safety issues and prioritize a to-do list. Simple things like adding non-slip pads under rugs or installing handicap bars in a bathroom can prevent falls. Medic alert systems are also valuable.
  3. Determine what level of independence is safe. Are your parents safe with driving, cooking, and complying with medical treatments? Are they in danger of harming themselves or someone else?
  4. Identify all available support resources. Maybe you need to hire a housekeeper, someone to run errands or a home health aide. A geriatric care manager can be invaluable. They will help you be proactive in avoiding problems.
  5. Involve siblings and other people in creating a support system if possible.
  6. Make a list of medications, doctors, and medical issues.
  7. Make sure your parents’ legal documents are up to date. These should include financial and healthcare powers of attorney and estate planning documents. Elder law attorneys are a valuable resource as they have walked this road with other families and can help secure benefits from the VA and Medicaid, if applicable.
  8. Make long-term care plans even if they don’t need that level of care yet. A financial plan and knowing where they might go will make the transition smoother if long-term care is required.

Above all, invite your parents to participate as much as possible. Reassure them that you are there for them in what can be a scary time. Remind them that you care about them and want them to be happy, healthy, and safe. Remember that our team is here to help navigate many of these transitions. Professional estate planning and elder law attorneys will help ensure you are ready for the next chapter. If you have questions or would like to discuss a personal legal matter, don’t hesitate to contact our office at (716) 206-0588.