Watch Out: Three Signs Dad Or Mom Needs Higher Level Care

You've just settled your elderly parent at a independent senior housing complex, pleased at the opportunity it provides for independent living while relieved there will be some minor supervision to ensure a safe environment. You plan to visit regularly and keep consistent communication with the housing staff. However, do you know what signs to look for that might indicate your parent needs a higher level of care? Be on the watch for the following changes in your parent that could spell trouble.


Everyone forgets things as they age. Names slip the mind, car keys seem to disappear, and once in a while you can't for the life of you remember the name of that amazing dish you ate on your honeymoon. But memory loss can also be an early warning sign of Alzheimer's disease, a brain disorder affecting 5.2 million Americans, most of whom are over the age of 65. Some characteristics of the type of forgetfulness associated with this disorder are:

  • remembering distant events, but not recent ones

  • displaying no recollection of making appointments or commitments, even if set just a week ago

  • telling the same stories over and over, seemingly oblivious to the fact people have heard them multiple times

If memory loss occurs with a decline in personal hygiene, difficulty speaking, personality changes, or bizarre behavior, it is especially troubling and merits an appointment with the doctor.


It's also important to be alert to any injuries your parent might report. While everyone loses some degree of coordination in the golden years, some seniors become so unsteady on their feet that they can fall. Because elderly people often have brittle bones, these falls can lead to broken arms, legs, or hips. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that one out of three people over the age of 65 falls, and these falls account for more injuries (both fatal and non-fatal) than any other event. Further, 20-30% of falls by elderly persons result in moderate to severe injuries, such as

  • lacerations

  • hip fractures

  • head trauma

If your parent tells you that he or she "had a little fall," assess whether medical attention is needed. Also, talk to the complex manager and find out whether a staff member can check on your parent more often. If not, you may need to consider an alternative housing arrangement.

Poor hygiene

If you notice that your usually well-groomed parent opens the door sporting disheveled hair and dressed in a bathrobe, pay attention. While everyone can have a few off days, a parent who consistently displays poor hygiene may be alerting you to more significant problems. One of the problems associated with a decline in self-care is depression. Depression in the elderly is very common, affecting six million Americans over the age of 65, but only about 10% receive treatment. Watch your parent for these additional common indicators of depression in the elderly

  • fatigue

  • vague complaints of nonspecific pain

  • withdrawal from social activities and friendships

  • appetite and sleep changes (both may increase or decrease)

  • statements indicating poor self-worth

  • remarks about suicide, either outright or veiled ("I just wish I could go to heaven with your dad/mom")

  • irritability, anxiety, sadness, or other mood changes

Depression is a treatable disease, so if you notice these indicators in your parent make an appointment for an evaluation right away.

Hopefully, your elderly parent will enjoy many years of independent living. By visiting often and keeping open communication with the housing staff, you will have a good sense of his/her overall physical and emotional health. Knowing what to look for during your visits ensures you can intervene quickly if necessary.