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Do your elderly parents need help? Checklist and practical guide

Do your elderly parents need help? Checklist and practical guide

Are your elderly parents coping at home? 

parents need help

It can be difficult to know when your parents or relatives may not be coping so well at home, but there are a few tell-tale signs to keep an eye out for.

Use our checklist of 8 questions to consider before you have a conversation with them. Then use our Practical Guide to take things further.

1. Are my parents looking after themselves?

Are your parents or relatives struggling to look after themselves and their home? Perhaps the post is piling up, laundry isn’t getting done and that once-spotless kitchen is looking grubby.

2. Are they eating regular meals?

Check the fridge to make sure food is fresh and that there are enough supplies to suggest that they are eating regular meals. Are they able to cook or heat food and handle the kettle safely?

3. Can they wash, bathe or shower?

Are they wearing clean clothes and do they appear to be looking after themselves – hair, shaving, teeth? Can they still bath/shower without help/aids? It may be worth asking this question directly, as this is often a real challenge as mobility reduces.

4. Are the bills being paid?

Are the bills getting paid, or are there reminders in the post? If you are able to look at a bank statement, does it look like their spending patterns have changed?

5. Is a health condition affecting life?

Has mum or dad recently been diagnosed with a health condition that may make life more difficult? A physically challenging condition, such as arthritis, means they won’t be able to get around like they used to. A mentally degenerative condition, such as dementia, may mean confusion, frustration and signs of unusual irritation.

6. Is my relative taking their medication?

If they take medication, do they have dosette boxes for their pills? Does medication seem to be taken regularly and not stockpiled somewhere?

7. Are my parents able to get out and about?

Are your parents still mobile? Are they able to talk to shops or public transport, or to drive themselves safely?

8. Have they got a social life and connections?

Are mum and dad starting to lose interest in the things they’ve always enjoyed?

Are they still seeing friends and responding to invitations? It might be that they’re not physically able enough to get out and about. Or they may have lost the confidence to go out; after a fall, perhaps.

What to do next – a practical guide

If you decide that the time has come to sort out some extra help, see our Practical Guide on what to do next.

If the answers suggest that help is needed, it’s time to have that conversation, however difficult.

You may find it useful to consider what needs to be addressed under the following headings.

How much support are they already getting in each category and how much help do they realistically need to stay safe and healthy? 

Family support

There are a number of ways that family members can help. That might mean being on hand 24 hours a day, or someone dropping in each day to keep someone company or prepare a meal. Visits to relatives living some distance away could be arranged on a rota, or moving in as a temporary arrangement after a fall or a major operation.

Whatever the solution, communication is key. Here are some ways of Dealing with the family implications of any changes.

And if your relative moving in with you is an option, here are some questions to ask beforehand.

Home safety

There are lots of ways to make home a safer place; from installing stair lifts or specially made mobility baths to improving lighting and clearing clutter. 

We have a guide to preventing falls in the home. And here are Five Reasons why a Personal Alarm may be a good idea.

Age UK has a useful Home Safety Checker list to download.

Medical needs

Elderly parents medical needs

Whether it’s someone becoming frailer after an illness, operation or fall, or ongoing conditions requiring treatment, medical needs will very often dictate the kind of care needed.

Here’s a guide to some of the NHS services available.

Cognitive health

Dementia and cognitive decline can be confusing, frightening and frustrating for the person with the condition and those caring for them. We have plenty of information about Dementia and Dementia Care Options 


If your relative’s level of mobility has changed, issues like getting out to the shops, the doctor’s surgery or even around the house will affect the kind of care they may need. Driving Safely in Old Age is an important, but difficult, topic to raise.

Personal hygiene

A change in someone’s daily habits like bathing or showering and generally taking care of themselves may mean extra help is needed at particular times of day. Here’s our guide to finding and employing a Care Agency

Meal preparation

If you are worried that mum or dad are struggling to make their own meals, there are a number of meal delivery services providing ready-made meals which only require heating. Here are some ideas for healthy eating in older age and practical tips for helping someone with dementia eat well.

Social interaction

Social interaction in old age

There’s more and more evidence that social connections are good not only for mental health, but also for keeping well physically.

If your relative seems socially isolated, making a point of regular contact with family members, giving them lifts to see friends and finding local groups or networks that they would enjoy can help.

Digital contacts, for example through email or Facebook, as well as seeing people in person or talking on the phone provide non-intrusive opportunities for keeping in touch and checking that everything’s OK.

Check out our local hubs

Our local hubs have a wealth of local resources for a whole range of support. 

Getting started

Your parents will probably want to be involved in planning for their care.  They may be a bit – or indeed very – resistant to change which may be your biggest hurdle. One idea is to start with less intrusive approaches, like more cleaning help particularly if this is from someone already known and who already has access to the home. 

Unless it’s an emergency situation, you could try to get them used to accepting help by focusing on the one or two most critical needs.

Get a Care Plan in place

Talk to their GP and arrange a needs and financial assessment from local social services. That will result in a Care Plan. The local authority will provide details of how to find that care and if eligible they will fund part or all of the care that they recommend.

Listen to our conversations with experts

Find out more about State Benefits and NHS Continuing Care in our podcasts with financial expert Jason Butler.

And Consultant old age psychiatrist Dr Alex Bailey talks to us about delirium and depression, as well as dementia, and suggests practical ways of dealing with them.

And if my parents refuse help?

If mum or dad point-blank refuses help, here’s a blog about what you can do.

Do you have experience of realising that relatives can no longer cope? Share your wisdom or look for ideas from others on our friendly Forum

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