Aging parents: 8 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 taking care of themselves and staying healthy?

When you visit your parents, consider the following questions:

1. Are your parents able to take care of themselves?

Pay attention to your parents' appearance. Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing and tooth brushing — could indicate dementia, depression or physical impairments.

Also pay attention to your parents' home. Are the lights working? Is the heat on? Is the yard overgrown? Any 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 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. Are your parents' memory changes limited to misplaced glasses or an occasionally forgotten appointment? Or are the changes more concerning, such as forgetting common words when speaking, getting lost in familiar neighborhoods or being unable to follow directions?

3. Are your 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? When asked, do your parents say they feel safe at home?

4. Are your parents safe on the road?

Driving can be challenging for older adults. If your parents become confused while driving or you're concerned about their ability to drive safely, it might be time to stop driving.

Jan. 10, 2015 See more In-depth