Ten Signs an Elderly Person Needs Help

woman helping a man with a walker

As people age, physical and mental changes may make it more difficult to perform activities of daily living that were once easy. When this happens, senior citizens may need help from others in order to sustain a better quality of life.

Help Around the House

Many senior citizens may need assistance in order to continue living independently. The following signs may indicate a senior citizen could use help around the house.

1. Overgrown Yard

Seniors who live in houses may need help with yard work. Mowing the lawn, weeding, trimming plants, and tending gardens all require a certain degree of physical stamina and dexterity, which may fade with aging. Look for the following indicators a senior citizen may need help keeping up with his yard:

  • Lawn: The lawn may be overgrown, filled with dandelions or weeds, or dead.
  • Garden: The garden might be overgrown or filled with weeds. It may also have plants that have grown out of control that block doors, windows, or walkways, or plants may be completely dead.
  • Trees: Trees may be untrimmed with branches hanging over the house, utility wires, or roadways. Leaves from autumn may remain unraked. Dead trees are not removed. Tree branches block windows, doors, driveways, and walkways.
  • Pests: The house and yard may show signs of pest infestation such as giant caterpillar webs in trees or bees' nests in eaves and tree branches.

2. Home in Disrepair

It may also be difficult for seniors to make repairs around the house. Signs of disrepair may be inside and outside of the home.

  • Gutters: Rain gutters may be overflowing, clogged with debris, or falling away from the house.
  • Fences: Fences may have broken boards, missing posts, holes, or broken gates.
  • Sidewalks: Sidewalks may have hazardous cracks or missing/displaced pavers. They may also have weed and grass overgrowth between pavers.
  • Doors and Windows: Doors and windows may have broken or missing hardware, screens, and panes.
  • Light Bulbs: Fixtures inside and outside of the house may have burned out, be missing, or there may be broken light bulbs that have not been replaced.
  • Drawers and Cupboards: Drawers and cupboards may have broken hinges or missing/broken pulls.
  • Plumbing: Plumbing issues such as dripping faucets, running and clogged toilets, or leaking drains may remain in disrepair.
  • Paint and Finishes: Watch for peeling paint and wallpaper, torn carpeting, water damage to ceilings and floors, and damaged flooring.

3. Dirty House

Cleaning takes a great deal of physical effort, and seniors may experience difficulty cleaning regularly as they grow older.

  • Furniture: Furniture may be covered with dust, pet hair, or items that should be put away.
  • Flooring: Carpets may not be vacuumed or floors may not be swept or mopped. Flooring may also have staining or debris that requires deeper cleaning.
  • Storage Spaces: Cupboards, closets, drawers, and other storage spaces may be overflowing, packed full in a random manner, or disorganized.
  • Kitchen: Sink may be full of dirty dishes, and the counters may be cluttered or dirty. The refrigerator may be dirty, as well, and it may have long-expired food or items that have gone bad.
  • Bathroom: Sinks, counters, showers, tubs, and toilets may be dirty. The medicine cabinet may be overflowing or contain expired medications and personal care products.
  • Garbage: Garbage bins may be overflowing, and recycling may be mixed in with regular garbage.
  • Laundry: Clothes may remain unwashed or there may be piles of unfolded clean laundry.
  • Smell: The house may have a stale, dusty, or dirty scent.

4. Financial Disarray

Elderly woman receiving financial assistance

Mental confusion, exhaustion, and forgetfulness may all result in less care being paid to financial obligations. The following signs may indicate a senior citizen needs financial assistance.

  • Disconnected Services: Services such as garbage pick up, electricity, water, sewer, and cable may be disconnected.
  • Late Notices: Look through mail for past due or final notices from companies seeking remittance.
  • Poor Credit Rating: A low credit score may indicate bills have been going unpaid.
  • Calls from Bill Collectors: Bill collectors may be calling or leaving messages about getting paid.
  • Uncashed Checks: If there are multiple uncashed checks around the house, especially if those checks are more than 30 days old, the senior citizen may need help with banking.
  • Tax Debts or Liens: Seniors may also have liens on property due to unpaid taxes or bills. Look for IRS notices or other notices of property liens.
  • Confusion about Financial Situation: Talk to the senior citizen about her financial situation. Watch for signs of confusion such as an apparent lack of understanding of finances, vague or hazy answers, or evasion.

Help With Personal Care

Often, physical difficulties make it difficult for the elderly to apply the same level of personal care that they once displayed.

5. Poor or Declining Hygiene

Changes in hygiene may be noticeable. Watch for the following.

  • Grooming: Hair may appear unwashed, messy, or unstyled. Hands and nails may be dirty, and nails may be untrimmed.
  • Clothing: Clothes may be dirty or disheveled. Clothing may also be mismatched or inappropriate for the season. Garments may also be in poor repair, with missing buttons, broken zippers, or holes.
  • Eyeglasses: Glasses may be broken, missing, or dirty.
  • Smell: The senior citizen may smell dirty or unwashed.

6. Unmet Health Needs

Some senior citizens may start to experience more difficulty managing their health. Signs that the senior citizen has an inability to meet his health needs may include:

  • Missed Doctors' Appointments: Missing appointments due to an inability to remember, manage a schedule or find appropriate transportation may occur. Talk with the senior citizen about her schedule and ask how she is getting to appointments, and whether she is missing any.
  • Confusion About Medication: As people age, they often have to manage more medications. Talk to the senior about her medication to determine whether she has a grasp of which medications to take when. Compare the results with the instructions on the medication. Additionally, look for empty prescription bottles that haven't been refilled, or full bottles that should be empty according to the dosage instructions.
  • Avoidance of Healthcare: Seniors may avoid healthcare appointments such as doctor and dentist visits. Ask about recent visits, as well as future visits to determine whether the senior is seeking appropriate healthcare. If answers are vague, negative, or evasive, look further.
  • Untended Physical Conditions: Watch for physical conditions that haven't been tended to, ranging from minor cuts and scrapes that haven't been cleaned and bandaged to larger conditions such as a noticeable limp or a cough that has lasted for more than a few weeks.

7. Poor Nutrition

Some seniors may find it difficult to eat healthy foods because they are no longer able to effectively shop or cook for themselves.

  • Unstocked Refrigerator and Pantry: The refrigerator and freezer may be nearly empty, or it may be stocked with very old foods or convenience foods without much nutritive value.
  • Weight Loss or Weight Gain: The senior may either lose or gain weight because of the inability to eat healthy foods.
  • Weakness or Declining Health: Lack of proper nutrition may manifest in physical weakness, mental fogginess, or health issues.
  • Lack of Appetite: In some cases, seniors may not get proper nutrition because they no longer have much of an appetite. Watch for seniors who eat very little, are never hungry, or just push food around their plate instead of eating it.

Other Signs

Seniors may display other signs that they need help, as well.

8. Withdrawal From Normal Activities

Withdrawal from normal activities, such as church, family gatherings, or book clubs may indicate depression, illness, or difficulty getting around. Likewise, the senior citizen may no longer be able to drive, or may just have mobility issues that make going places seem like a chore.

9. Unexplained Injuries

Unexplained bumps, bruises, abrasions, broken bones, and other physical injuries may indicate a caregiver is engaging in elder abuse, or the senior citizen just may not be able to physically manage as well as she once did due to balance, eyesight, or other health issues. When a senior citizen presents with an injury, ask how she sustained it, and watch for patterns of injury such as recurrent problems or an increased amount of bruises, bumps, and abrasions that may indicate she needs help.

10. Medical Diagnosis

Seniors who have been diagnosed with a serious illness may have difficulty managing all of the factors that come with such a diagnosis such as medication, medical appointments, communication with Medicare and supplemental insurance, and personal care associated with the condition. While many diagnoses will most likely indicate a senior needs extra help managing his care, the following types of diagnoses may be particularly difficult for a senior citizen to manage alone.

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Broken bones
  • Recent or upcoming surgical procedures
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Back injuries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Dementia
  • Mental illnesses
  • Glaucoma and other eye diseases such as cataracts or macular degeneration
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Stroke
  • Embolism

Lending a Hand

If you know a senior citizen who needs help, you may offer to lend a hand. If you are unable to help, many organizations exist to assist seniors. Check with the local senior center and church organizations, or check out government assistance programs.

Ten Signs an Elderly Person Needs Help