Elderly man holding his adult child's hands while holding his walking cane
Care Planning

Signs a Senior Needs Help

And how to offer assistance without alienating an ageing loved one

Your ageing parents have always been so independent, but now you’re starting to suspect that maybe they could use a bit more help around the house — or even with more personal tasks like bathing or getting dressed. What are some signs that a senior needs help at home? How can you raise the subject with your mom or dad? And what if they say no? Read on for some tips on helping an elderly parent age in place as respectfully as possible.

Clues that your parent needs more help at home

Senior man sitting on bed looking confused

How can I tell if my parent needs more help? Here are some indicators that can help you assess whether your ageing mom or dad might be struggling:

  • Changes in behaviour: Your formerly cheerful or astute parent is newly anxious, irritable, aggressive, or depressed. 
  • Changes in ability: Your mom or dad seems confused, or has new difficulty remembering names, places, or current events. They don’t seem as able to manage finances or appointments. They no longer seem interested in old hobbies or pleasures like reading or doing the crossword.
  • Changes in hygiene: Does your parent wear the same outfit for days at a time? Are they no longer bathing regularly, brushing their teeth, trimming nails? Are the bed linens and towels soiled?
  • A lapse in home maintenance: The lawn hasn’t been cut, the house is grimy and dusty. A formerly orderly home has become increasingly cluttered and disorganized. Mail is piling up.
  • Changes in health: Your parent has a new or worsening diagnosis or illness.
  • A change in medication: Is your parent taking their medication regularly, according to instructions? Are they able to refill prescriptions? Have they been prescribed newer or more drugs? Are they experiencing side effects?
  • Changes in eating habits: Your mom or dad is losing weight. There’s no healthy food in the house. They don’t seem to be able to buy or order groceries for themselves. Food is rotting in the fridge. 
  • New or worsening safety concerns. Have you noticed unexplained scratches or dents on your parent’s car? Do they have bruises or scrapes that might indicate a fall, or burns that suggest they’ve left the stove on or cigarettes burning? Do they remember to lock the doors and windows at night or when they leave the house?

If you notice any of these shifts, it may be time to take a more active role in your parent’s life. But sometimes, that can be easier said than done.

Why won’t my parents just accept my help?

You know that your mom or dad could use some help. But every time you offer, they brush you off — or get angry.

It can be frustrating, or even scary, to feel like your parents are resisting getting the help they need. To understand why, it can help to think about the situation from their perspective. When parents ask for or accept help from their kids: 

  • they are acknowledging that they’re no longer as strong or capable as they once were
  • it can feel as though they’re giving up independence and autonomy
  • it can be a reminder that they will continue to age and that mortality is nearer
  • they may worry that their relationships with their adult children will change.

For all these reasons, parents may minimize their obvious needs for assistance, resist their children’s attempts to help out, withhold information from their adult children, or get angry when those children try to intervene (or “interfere”).

How can I offer help so that they’ll accept it?

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to offer help while recognizing and respecting your parents’ dignity, maturity, and — wherever possible — autonomy. Here are some approaches to keep in mind:

Ask permission

Your offers of help may stand a better chance of acceptance if you ask first. For example, don’t automatically assume that when you drive your mom to visit her financial planner or your dad to a doctor’s appointment, that you’ll also be part of the appointment or in the examination room. Instead, ask if it’s okay to join them, or if perhaps you should come in at the hand of the appointment to make sure your questions are answered.

Focus on the positive 

Sometimes, seniors may resent offers of help because those offers focus on what they can’t do: drive, manage complicated decisions, cook Thanksgiving dinner. Rather than focus on the negatives, frame your offers of help in more positive ways: “Mom, what about I drive you to your doctor’s appointment, and afterwards you show me how to make your famous pumpkin pie?”

Ask them what they’d like — and listen to their answers

Rather than swooping in and telling your mom or dad exactly what you’ll be doing for them, start the conversation by asking what they’d like help with. With any luck, they may identify at least a couple of tasks — like grocery shopping or dealing with the garden — that have started to feel overwhelming. Start by helping with these. As time goes on, you can start to suggest other areas where you can help out. “Dad, I noticed your mail piling up. Did you want me to deal with those bills?”

Do things alongside them, not for them

Your ageing parent retains some independence when they can take the lead on a task. For example, your mom may not have the strength to weed the garden, but she can still point out how she’d like the rose bushes to be pruned. Your dad may find it overwhelming to keep track of reordering his prescriptions, but he may be happy to slot his pills into his weekly medication organizer. Remember, the goal is to extend your parents’ independence, not encourage their dependence on you.

Connect them with other helpers

Sometimes, seniors are more likely to accept help if it doesn’t come from their children. Your mom or dad may be more open to help from a professional caregiver, or third-party services that provide cleaning, grocery delivery, meal preparation, and more. If they’re open to it and have the resources, you can offer to research and connect them with these kinds of services.

Set them up for success

Some technologies, tools, and tricks can enhance your parents’ safety, independence, and mobility. Major and minor home renovations (like installing ramps, grab bars and better lighting or removing throw rugs) can minimize their need for help. Medical alert pendants can provide peace of mind in the event of an emergency or an accident like a fall. It can be a great idea to explore these options with your parents to see what they might be open to.

What if they still say no?

How do you help an elderly parent that refuses help? There may come a time when your parents need help, even if they don’t want it. If they are endangering their own — or others’ — health and safety, then it may be time to intervene, despite their protests. These situations can be difficult and frustrating — and sometimes heartbreaking. It can help to remember that seniors don’t usually mean to be difficult on purpose. They, like you, are grappling with what it means to get older and the loss of independence and autonomy. And they, like everyone, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Make it easy for your circle to lend a helping hand

As you, your parents and other family members and friends create a support plan for your parents, let CareEasy help. The CareEasy app brings family caregivers together on one, fully transparent, platform to coordinate care: from mowing the lawn and picking up meals to accompanying mom to the doctor and helping keep the house tidy and the laundry on the go. When you work together with CareEasy, you can help create the conditions that let your parents live with more autonomy and independence.

Download the CareEasy app for FREE