Aging parents: 7 warning signs of health problems

Concerned about your aging parents' health? Use this guide to gauge how your aging parents are doing — and what to do if they need help. By Mayo Clinic Staff

As your parents get older, how can you be sure they're successfully taking care of themselves and staying healthy? When you visit your aging parents, ask yourself the following questions. Then, if necessary, take steps to help your aging parents maintain their independence.

1. Are your aging parents taking care of themselves?

Pay attention to your parents' appearance. Are their clothes clean? Do they appear to be taking good care of themselves? Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing, tooth brushing and other basic grooming — could indicate dementia, depression or physical impairments.

Also pay attention to your parents' home. Are the lights working? Is the heat on? Are the bathrooms clean? Is the yard overgrown? Any big changes in the way your parents do things around the house could provide clues to their health. For example, scorched pots could mean your parents are forgetting about food cooking on the stove. Neglected housework could be a sign of depression, dementia or other concerns.

2. Are your aging parents experiencing memory loss?

Everyone forgets things from time to time. Modest memory problems are a fairly common part of aging, and sometimes medication side effects or underlying conditions contribute to memory loss. There's a difference, though, between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. Consider your aging parents. Are memory changes limited to misplaced glasses or an occasionally forgotten appointment? Or are memory changes more concerning, such as forgetting common words when speaking, getting lost in familiar neighborhoods or being unable to follow directions? If you're concerned about memory loss for either of your aging parents, schedule an evaluation with the doctor.

3. Are your aging parents safe in their home?

Take a look around your parents' home, keeping an eye out for any red flags. Do your parents have difficulty navigating a narrow stairway? Has either parent fallen recently? Are they able to read directions on medication containers?

4. Are your aging parents safe on the road?

Driving can sometimes be challenging for older adults. If your aging parents become confused while driving or you're concerned about their ability to drive safely, it might be time to stop driving. To help your aging parents maintain their independence, suggest other transportation options — such as taking the bus, using a van service, hiring a driver or taking advantage of other local transportation options.

Jan. 06, 2012 See more In-depth