As people age, they naturally need to slow down and be mindful of their limitations. However, there are some changes - such as a person’s mood, behaviour, activity levels or general wellbeing which need closer observation. While we all experience bad days, certain behaviour can be a tell-tale sign of more troubling cognitive or emotional decline which can have serious implications if they’re living alone.

Little signs may indicate your elderly relative needs more support to remain independent and healthy at home.

Weight loss

Weight loss is common as we age, but sudden changes in weight can be a sign that your elderly relative is not eating well, and can signal the early stages of a cognitive illness. Your relative may have forgotten to eat regularly, or not remembered to get to the shops. Check the pantry and fridge are well-stocked and ensure meals are a suitable portion size and contain enough nutritional value.  It may be time to arrange home delivered meals or have a carer help prepare the meals at home.

Personal hygiene

Showering and wearing fresh clothing each day shows your relative has a healthy functioning brain and positive outlook. If clothing is being worn for days on end and showering is becoming less frequent, it could be a sign that your relative is not functioning as well as they could.  For someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, remembering all the steps involved with taking a shower may be difficult. Going to the toilet may also be a challenge if the brain’s normal signals are not finely tuned.

Vision and Hearing Loss

Does your relative turn up the volume on the TV to a deafening level? Have they stopped attending their book club? Perhaps you’ve noticed they seem more apprehensive about driving? While some hearing and vision loss is considered a normal part of ageing, the individual may not be aware these senses are diminishing. If your parent is struggling to hear normal conversational volume or no longer reads words on a page like they used to, they should have their eyes and hearing tested.

Reduced social activity and low mood

Depression and anxiety are serious health issues for older people. Symptoms of depression can include loss of appetite, reduced social engagements, poor sleep, fatigue, low energy, increased levels of pain and irritability.  The loss of a spouse or friend can trigger a depressed mood, or it could be a symptom of a cognitive decline as the person struggles with confusion and frustration on a daily basis. With a disease like dementia, angry outbursts may be common. Someone with dementia often becomes extremely defensive or suspicious of those around them — including close family and friends — as they can’t distinguish familiar faces from a stranger. Consult a GP about the various treatment options.

Changes in home cleanliness

A cluttered house isn’t necessarily a bad sign. However, if your parent was always very tidy and liked order, piles of unopened mail, increased clutter, an unusual amount of dirty dishes and general mess is a possible sign of an underlying cognitive or emotional issue. Additionally, watch out for items showing up in strange places around the home, like food or drinks placed in the dishwasher instead of the refrigerator. If mail is unopened, bills may not be paid on time, or important appointments missed.

No concept of time

Many people with dementia are no longer able to distinguish night from day and lose track of days. For example, they may call in the middle of the night confused why you haven’t picked them up for their 10am appointment in 3 days’ time. Sleep patterns are disrupted, so poor sleep may be another sign of cognitive decline. Your parent’s GP can discuss these symptoms and offer advice.  

If you’ve noticed some of these signs with your parents, in-home support could be the answer.

For some families, geographic distance or work commitments mean they can’t provide regular care themselves.  In-home and community care can be there when you can’t, so your parent can remain independent, healthy and happy at home.  Support with meals, personal care, social visits, shopping or appointments provides both practical help and companionship.