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When To Intervene With Elderly Parents

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As people age some behavioral changes are inevitable. We slow down a little (sometimes a lot!), there can be cognitive changes, and medications that are intended to help us stay healthy can affect how we act.

It can be difficult to know when to intervene with elderly parents because you don’t want to overstep, yet if you notice some of these signs, you may have to:

  • Experiencing severe mood changes
  • Making very poor financial choices
  • Not taking medications correctly
  • Not cleaning their home
  • Continuing to drive when they shouldn’t

It’s never easy to be the bad guy with your parents, especially as they get older. However, ignoring potentially dangerous behaviors because you don’t want to put your foot down is far worse.

Take a look at our Checklist for Aging Parents which can help you and your parents prepare for what may be coming up ahead.

If you notice the following in your elderly parents, you need to have a frank discussion.

Experiencing Severe Mood Changes 

Let’s say your senior mother, who was always very energetic when you were younger, barely seems to want to get out of bed now.  Maybe your senior father, who had a wide range of interests, can’t muster up the energy to follow his favorite hobbies.

Yes, sometimes one’s age can cause these changes, but it could also be that your parent is depressed.

Depression in older adults may be difficult to recognize because they may show different symptoms than younger people.

National Institute on Aging

Here are some signs of depression in seniors:

  • Not maintaining personal hygiene
  • Barely eating or not eating
  • Talking about death a lot and possibly even suicide
  • Taking drugs not prescribed to them and/or drinking alcohol when they never used to
  • No self-worth
  • Not sleeping well, if at all
  • Expressing helplessness and/or hopelessness
  • Has no interest in maintaining hobbies and interests
  • Staying isolated from others, including family members and friends

In addition, researchers found that, “Information processing speed and visuospatial and executive abilities were the most broadly and frequently impaired.”

Talking about whether your mom or dad is depressed isn’t easy to do, but you’ll be glad you did. If they tell you that they are depressed, you can get them the help they need to improve their quality of life.

And, even if they don’t realize depression may be affecting them, you can mention it to their doctor who can talk to them more in-depth about their symptoms.

Making Very Poor Financial Choices

Another instance in which you have to step in is if your older parents are badly mismanaging their money. Perhaps they’ve stopped paying certain bills because they forget to or they simply can’t afford it. If they do get money, such as through a social security check, maybe they spend it immediately or often buy extravagant things they don’t need.

You want your parents to be able to have enough money for living expenses and to maintain their retirement. You may have to manage their money for them or seek the services of a professional who can get their finances back on track. 

Not Taking Their Medications Correctly (Or At All)

Perhaps you’ve been noticing that your parent isn’t taking their medication, but you don’t want to say something about it. It’s their health and their life after all, right? Yes and no.

Many medications prescribed to seniors can be life-saving, so you don’t want your elderly parent skipping their medications. Plus, sometimes a senior might not even be doing this intentionally, but rather, they forget to take their medication.

Getting your senior parent on a daily medication schedule, such as through a phone app or even you calling to check in on them can help immensely. So too can products like a daily pill case or medication reminders. Check out some examples by clicking here.

Not Cleaning Their Home

Maybe the last few times you’ve visited your parents, you’ve noticed the house wasn’t in the best shape. Then, during subsequent visits, you might have watched as the cleanliness of the house has gotten worse and worse.

This could be because your parent isn’t physically able to clean the house anymore. Or again, they may have forgotten to clean due to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Either way, it’s worth sitting down and having a conversation, especially if your parents aren’t able to maintain their home. You might have to think about hiring a service to help or even think about transferring them to an assisted living community or a nursing home if they have gotten too frail.

They Can’t Drive Safely But Continue To Do So Anyway

Although your senior parents still have a perfectly valid driver’s license, do you worry each time they drive? I’ve been there with my dad. When he drove, he would drive too slowly, had slow reaction times, and would enter the traffic flow far too slowly. I was worried that an accident was just a matter of time.

Getting into a car wreck at your parent’s age could have life-altering consequences. Because of this, you might need to start volunteering to drive them around so they don’t risk their lives (or someone else’s) by getting behind the wheel of a car anymore. If you can’t do this, then discuss other options, like ride share services, or try to find someone who can take them places.

How Do You Help An Elderly Parent Who Doesn’t Want Help?

What if you try to broach any of these subjects with your elderly parent(s) and they’re not the least bit receptive? Maybe they insist they can do it themselves and that they don’t need your help or anybody else’s. What now?

It helps if you can understand why your senior parent is resisting you so much. More than likely, their feelings stem from fear or a loss of control, possibly even both. Your senior parent may worry about losing their home, their health, and other changes that could come as they continue to age.

By touching on these fears and giving your elderly parent at least a modicum of control, you may make them more willing to accept help.

If this doesn’t work, then you might want to remind your senior parents why you’re offering them help in the first place. Tell them of everyone in their lives who loves and cares about them and wants to see them happy and healthy – be those your siblings, grandchildren, friends, or other family members.

Speaking of family, sometimes you may have to relinquish control and let a sibling of yours take over. It’s not always easy to accept that your elderly parents would rather listen to your brother or sister than you, but at the end of the day, it’s not about who your parents accept help from. What is most important is that they accept the help.


As an adult child, it is often difficult to step in and tell your parents what to do, but sometimes you have to do it in order to keep them safe. By watching for the signs of depression, cognitive changes or personality changes, you’ll know if it’s time to intervene.

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