After seeing your aging parents over the holiday season, you might be wondering if you should be worrying or planning for some additional help. Did Mom’s misstep on Christmas morning mean she is at risk to fall? Has Dad always forgotten where he keeps the wine opener, or is that a sign of dementia? If you have specific incidents in your mind, it can become quickly overwhelming and give you more anxiety than you bargained for.

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How do you know when to worry about your aging parents? While each senior is unique and each situation nuanced, there are a few guidelines that we can provide to help you know if your worries are warranted or if you can relax a bit. Remember: If you are worried about your parents, it is wise to consider talking honestly with them about your worries. It can also be helpful to you—and to them—if you get their trusted geriatrician involved to put your worries to rest or to give you all a solid follow-up plan.

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Weight Loss

Consider being worried if your aging parents are losing weight unexpectedly. This can indicate physical health issues or, more likely, memory issues. If you are able to, check the refrigerator the next time you visit. Watch for expired food or otherwise empty shelves; these could indicate that they are not remembering to eat or are not eating good and nutritious food.

Judgment Issues

Memory loss is often considered the first warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. However, signs of the disease can pop up much sooner than forgetfulness. Watch for impairments in regard to judgment or complex tasks. For example, if your aging parents no longer pay their bills on time, cannot navigate their checkbook, or want to wear a winter coat outside on a warm spring day, consider investigating further.

Expressed Loneliness

If your loved one lives alone, or if your parents no longer drive, be especially wary if they mention loneliness. Isolation becomes easier and easier as we age, and restricted interaction with friends, family, or the outside world can be especially dangerous for seniors. Isolated seniors often experience faster progression of memory loss as well as increased depression or anxiety. If your loved one expresses that he or she is lonely, consider finding a way to get him or her more connected with friends, peers, or family.

New Medication Schedules

As your loved ones age, medical issues may become more complex. For more detailed medication schedules or treatment plans, your loved one may no longer be able to handle the task. Fortunately, many senior living communities offer medical management plans, taking the heavy responsibility of repeated shots or medications off of your loved one.

Poor Hygiene

Hygiene is often an excellent indicator of poor cognitive or physical health in aging adults. If your aging parents seem to be wearing the same clothes every day, if your dad is consistently unshaven, or if the house is in disarray, it could be because these tasks are too physically taxing or too complex for your parents at this time due to medical or cognitive complications.

You know your aging parents best, and if something seems off for you, follow your intuition to investigate further. In almost all cases, it is best to intervene sooner rather than later so that your loved ones can receive the assistance that they need to live a happy and full life.

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