How to tell if your older relative needs more help

Many older people enjoy the comfort of being in their own home. However, sometimes it can become apparent to younger relatives that perhaps their older relative or friend is not coping as well at home as they once did. This can be especially true if your loved one is showing early signs of memory issues, has reduced mobility or if they have sadly lost their partner and are attempting to run the household alone.

These struggles can become even more apparent in the winter months, when the cold weather and dark evenings make it difficult to keep warm, well and sociable.

It can be difficult to know if your older relative or friend is not coping as well as well as they might. Most people don’t want to admit when everyday activities become harder. However, acting in time helps avoid a decline in life quality and crises. Here are a few signs to take note of:

Has their appearance changed?

If your loved one usually takes pride in their appearance and personal hygiene, take notice if they no longer seem to be brushing their hair, showering regularly or putting on a nice outfit. It could be a sign that they are finding it difficult to keep up with daily tasks.

Watch out for signs of small accidents such as scalding or small burns, which may suggest that they are struggling to use common appliances. Other things to notice include sudden or unexplained weight loss, as it could indicate that they are struggling to make nutritious meals or have been feeling unwell.

What’s the house environment like?

Many people take pride in keeping their home clean and tidy, but if you have noticed your loved one’s home is suddenly cluttered and untidy, it might be a sign that housework has become more challenging. Perhaps their mobility is limited, or maybe they are becoming forgetful and struggling to stay on top of things at home.

Pay attention too to the spaces where they seem to be spending most of their time. Are they confining themselves to increasingly smaller areas of their home, possibly for fear of falling?

Are they taking their medication?

Your loved one may have managed their prescription medication for many years. However, if you are noticing excess stock of medication around the house or ‘blister pack’ pills with days missing, it could be a sign that they aren’t taking their medication as they should be. If you feel your loved one isn’t keeping up with their dosage properly, consider approaching the issue and encouraging a discussion with their GP or specialist.

Are there unpaid bills or have their spending patterns changed?

This can be especially prevalent in winter, when energy expenses can increase drastically. You may spot utilities letters pilling up or bill reminders, which may suggest that managing the household and associated finances has become a bit trickier.

Also be especially wary of your loved one mentioning any large sums of money that they need to pay out – older people are disproportionately targeted by scammers and this can have significant consequences on their finances.

What’s their social life like?

Social interaction can often slow down as we age. Perhaps you’ve noticed many of your loved one’s friends have passed away. Or maybe they are not able to get out and about as much, so opportunities to connect with others have become rarer. Make a point of asking about who they have met or spoken with recently, and what the conversation was about, to get a sense of the extent and quality of their interactions.

Are they calling on you more often?

A common sign that your older relative might be struggling at home is that they begin to call you multiple times per day, often with questions or concerns about things that they wouldn’t usually rely on you for. This could be a sign that they are experiencing anxiety, or are becoming forgetful, asking for clarification on things that have already been discussed. It can also be a sign that your loved one is feeling lonely. Even if you visit and speak to them regularly, for many older people, living alone and being less able to get out of the house can cause feelings of loneliness.

Noticing that your older loved one is struggling by themselves can be difficult and prompt the need to explore additional support. However, the sooner help is in place to keep your older relative safe and well, the better. Remember to take one step at a time, give yourself lots of grace, share your worries with your loved ones, and reach out to professionals for advice and help.

Find more winter resources in our Warmth of Care hub