Care Insights & Ideas

Warning Signs Your Aging Parents Need More Help

If you're home for the holidays and notice that your parents need more help than they used to, you're not alone. Home care agencies often see a surge in calls in late December and early January.


“We see a big uptick in demand for in-home care around the holidays, when adult children spot changes in their parents’ well-being and realize they need more support to stay safe and independent,” says Juliet Nyatta, Senior Vice President of Care Operations at Honor.

Here are some clues to possible warning signs:

Take the Sniff Test

Breathe in that holiday hug. Your parent’s familiar scent can be comforting—or cause for concern. If you notice unclean clothes or an uncharacteristic body odor, that could signal that a parent is having trouble bathing, maintaining personal hygiene, or keeping up with household chores like doing laundry. Make a mental note while you follow your nose to the kitchen.

Open the fridge and you’ll notice pretty quickly if there’s spoiled food—but your parents may not. Our sense of smell diminishes with age, declining significantly after 70. Many older adults can’t detect unpleasant odors that would normally tell us it’s time to toss that meatloaf from last week.

If your sniff test tells you something's off, it might not just be “normal aging.” Mild cognitive impairment could also be the cause. Diminished sense of smell can be an early indicator of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. If you sense something isn’t quite right, help your mom or dad set up a doctor’s visit to see if there’s something else going on.

Have a Look Around

Your childhood home may look the same as ever—but it may not work as well for older adults. As people age, their environment typically needs simple upgrades to keep them safe. You can significantly reduce fall risks by taping down throw rugs, removing extra furniture, securing electrical cords out of pathways, and adding grab bars in the bathroom.

Pay attention to clutter as well. Stacks of unopened mail, broken appliances, or drooping houseplants may also signal a need for help.

Mail piled up on a kitchen table

Being unable to manage everyday activities can be a symptom of depression or of cognitive impairment, which often presents like depression.

If you see any of the above warning signs, you may want to arrange for your parent to see a doctor, and for family members or professional caregivers to stop by and help with projects and chores. Just knowing your parents have help and resources can relieve worry—both yours and theirs.

Listen Up

Is the TV or radio volume blaring? Are conversations repeated? Does mom keeps asking “what?” or just smiling and nodding instead of participating? Don’t brush it off. Difficulty following conversations may be a sign of hearing loss, cognitive impairment, or both.

Since hearing is a brain function, older people who begin losing their hearing are at greater risk of developing dementia over time. Hearing aids can sometimes stimulate the sounds needed for the brain to restore organization and correctly process sounds.

Make Sense of Your Senses

Talking to parents about warning signs you’ve noticed isn’t fun. But do it anyway.

Let them know you want to be involved to help them stay independent for as long as possible. Even if you don’t live nearby, there’s a lot you can do, like scheduling appointments and finding help with transportation, chores, and projects. Talk to local family members about how they can help out or set up a visit with a home care agency that can provide ongoing support.

Fear of losing independence keeps a lot of older adults tight lipped. If your parents are open and honest about their changing needs, consider it a generous holiday gift. They trust you’ll know what to do with it.


Honor makes it easier for family members—whether they live across town or across the country— to help older loved ones stay in the home they love. Learn how we can help your family.