When Is the Right Time for Assisted Senior Care?

In this article...
  • There are signs that your aging loved one may need outside help with the activities of daily living. Our caregiving review outlines how you can determine when it’s time to consider assisted living or nursing home care for your loved one.

Aging baby boomers are increasingly in need of care from their children or eldercare professionals. According to the AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report, the number of caregivers for people ages 50 and older rose from 34.2 million in 2015 to 41.8 million in 2020. That means almost 17% of the U.S. population are caregivers.

The reasons for this rise, AARP says, include:

  • The aging baby boomer population requiring more care
  • Limitations or workforce shortages in the health care or long-term services and supports
  • Increased efforts by states to facilitate home- and community-based services
  • Increasing numbers of Americans who are self-identifying that their daily activities, in support of their family members and friends with health or functional limitations, are caregiving

The 2016 report Families Caring for an Aging America found that:

  • More than half of older adults (58.5%) between 85 and 89 years of age need a family member's help because of health or functional issues
  • About three-fourths of adults age 90 and up (74%) need caregiving help from others

At what point does your aging parent need caregiving help? When might your older parent or spouse need to consider assisted living of some sort? Sometimes it’s obvious – a stroke, a fall, an injury or some other unexpected traumatic event may force the individual to need outside care. But far more commonly, aging adults slowly and subtly slip into a stage where self-care becomes more and more difficult.

Here are eight common signals that your loved one may need extra help.

8 Warning Signs Assisted Care May Be Necessary

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are eight warning signs of decline that you may want consider as evidence that your aging loved one may need assisted living care.

1. Can Your Loved One Care for Himself or Herself?

There are certain so-called Activities of Daily Living (ADL) that most people are typically able to manage independently. They can include:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing and grooming
  • Toileting
  • Transferring or moving from place to place (e.g., moving from the bed to a chair)
  • Eating

Other common daily activities include the need to maintain their finances, homes and yards. Are the bills getting paid? Are the dishes being washed and the bed linens getting changed? Is the kitchen well-stocked with healthy food? Is the lawn overgrown?

2. Is There Noticeable Memory Loss?

Some memory loss is normal as we age. Everyone misplaces their keys or forgets someone’s name now and then. But memory loss that begins to interfere with everyday living is more of a concern.

The Mayo Clinic says these are the signs of problematic memory loss:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Not being able to follow instructions
  • Becoming confused about time, people and places

3. Are Your Elderly Loved Ones Safe in Their Home?

If you notice any of these red flags, they may be in danger of harm:

  • Do they struggle with navigating a narrow stairway?
  • Have they fallen recently?
  • Are they able to read and follow medication directions?
  • Can they explain how they set up or take their medications?

Also check their home for loose rugs, exposed electrical cords and clutter that could cause them to trip and fall. Ensure they can easily reach dishes, tools and other daily household objects.  

4. Is Your Loved One Safe Driving a Car?

It’s easy to joke about the guy driving 40 miles an hour in a 65 miles-per-hour zone, but it’s not funny – it’s dangerous. And it is a sign that impaired vision and hearing, diminished reflexes and mental confusion are making driving a car unsafe. Other signs include more dents and damage to the car or tickets or warnings from police for driving infractions.

5. Has Your Loved One Lost Weight?

Losing weight unexpectedly or unplanned may indicate physical or mental health problems. The Mayo Clinic says weight loss could be caused by:

  • Difficulty cooking – They may not have the desire or energy to cook, to hold and use cooking tools or the ability to read labels or follow cooking directions

  • Diminished senses of taste or smell – Aging naturally brings a loss in these senses, which can make food far less appealing and eating less enjoyable

  • Social factors – When grocery shopping becomes physically challenging or too expensive, they may have limited food options at home
  • Underlying health conditions – Weight loss can indicate a serious medical problem, such as dementia, depression or cancer

6. Has Your Loved One’s Mood or Spirits Changed?

With time, older adults often experience the loss of friends and family and must deal with the everyday challenges of aging. That can make them sad from time to time, and that’s to be expected. But clinical depression is not a natural part of aging. Seniors should expect to stay happy and positive most of the time.

If your older parent has a noticeable and longer-lasting change in mood and outlook, it could be a sign of clinical depression or another illness.

7. Is Your Loved One Still Socially Active?

Staying social is one of the most important markers of good health, both physical and mental. The COVID-19 pandemic was especially difficult for seniors who may be more isolated than most.

Is your loved one staying as active as possible, given the circumstances? Are they staying connected with friends, clubs and places of worship, at least electronically? Are they participating in the hobbies and activities that bring them joy? A loss of interest in being social is another sign of depression and poor health.

8. Is Your Aging Parent or Loved One Able to Walk Safely and Steadily?

If you worry every time your loved one walks across the room, or you jump up to lend an arm when they take the stairs, this likely reflects their increased risk for a dangerous fall. Any number of things can make walking difficult:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • Poor balance
  • Foot pain

Falling is one of the main causes of senior disability. If your loved one is unsteady, have that issue addressed by a doctor immediately.

Resources and Next Steps If Your Aging Loved One Needs Assisted Living, Caregiving or Nursing Home Care

If your aging loved ones are exhibiting any of the eight signs of decreasing health outlined above, you can take some of the following steps:

  • Share your concerns with your loved ones in a sensitive and loving manner
  • Encourage regular medical checkups
  • Fix safety issues in their home
  • Consider hiring a caregiver for some home care services to help with daily activities or to run errands. You may also need to discuss their possible move to an assisted living facility
  • Ask their doctor for advice
  • Talk to local agencies, like your local agency on aging – which you can find by using the federal government’s Eldercare Locator search tool
About the Author

David Levine is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, American Heritage, U.S. News & World Report and others.

David has covered health, health insurance and health policy topics – among many others – since 2017. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Rochester and currently lives in Albany, New York.

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