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When Is It Time To Start Helping Your Aging Parents?

For those with aging loved ones, it may be difficult to distinguish a few signs of “normal” aging from things that should raise some red flags. No one teaches you in school how to spot trouble signs with aging loved ones. And it’s our human nature to avoid unpleasant things, isn’t it?

Watching our aging parents decline is difficult, though part of nature. But there are some obvious warnings we really need to see, and act upon rather than ignore. Here’s an example, though I have just made up the story that goes with what I saw.

In walking in my neighborhood, I came across a beat-up car, which had been in the driveway of a nice home, in a well-kept area. It apparently did not belong to a visitor, as it had been sitting there in the same place for days. I took a moment and walked around it. The side had been bashed in in several places, suggesting accidents of the “fender-bender” type. The trunk was held together with bungee cords. Overall, it looked out of place in an upscale neighborhood. And to me, the car could tell a story. I was with my husband and partner at where we offer guidance to families with aging loved ones. He asked “Do you think that car belongs to an old person?”.

Perhaps it did belong to an older driver. Imagine that’s true. The condition of the car suggests that the person who had been driving it should stop driving. How many minor accidents does it take to say, “that’s enough”? The next one might not be so minor. And what about the elder’s family? One could surmise in this scenario that family had not seen the elder in person at home for some time. They likely had not looked at the car and the aging person had never mentioned the numerous times the damage had happened. One could surmise (not knowing if it’s true), that no one was paying attention to the fact that an aging parent had neglected the car and perhaps neglected other things as well.

The question of when to step in hangs in the air for many families. In our story of the bashed-in car, we think of imaginary adult kids who have not taken their time to visit an aging parent in person, at home, to check things out. And the condition of the vehicle suggests that if any family did visit, they would see the mess and know that the time had come for things to change.

Anyone with an aging parent who has been sharp, productive, and self-sufficient for a long time wants to believe that this will continue indefinitely. But it rarely does. Eventually those little changes become big changes in an elder’s ability to manage without any help. We, as family, need to be alert to them so we can at least offer help when we see the decline.

Of course, I do not actually know if an elder owns the car. But the message it gave me is that someone is neglecting not only the car but perhaps the person who has been driving it. And that is the point here: we have to take a close look at what our parents and other loved ones are doing as they live long and particularly if they live alone. The time to step in and help may be now, but we don’t see it unless we are looking.


1.If you have an aging loved one, particularly living alone, visit in person regularly. Eyeball the living situation. If there is a car, check out the condition. If you live far away, ask a neighbor, friend nearby or paid worker to visit and give you an update.

2. Note these red flags and take them as clues that help is needed: stacks of unpaid bills, disorder in the home that was previously well kept, lack of food in the refrigerator or cupboards, visible damage to the car, and home or yard in disrepair, among other things. These are a few among possibly many.

3. Accept that most people will eventually need some help as they age. It could be physical assistance, housekeeping, managing money, or just keeping track of what daily tasks need to be done. Offer to help at the first signs. Don’t let your aging loved one’s life, metaphorically at least, deteriorate to looking like the beat-up car. Getting involved is the remedy for neglect.

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