Observation can reveal problems with elders’ care
September 24, 2018

Q:  I will be returning to my hometown over the holidays. I have several older relatives (in their late 70s and 80s) who live in the area. I have heard there may be a few problems, people are concerned for their welfare. I am trying to gather information before I make the trip. How do I determine if they need help or are still safe to remain at home?

A:   When you arrive in town and make visits to your relatives’ homes utilize your senses — sight, smell, hearing and thermoception (heat, cold) to assist you in pinpointing possible areas which are problematic. Some issues may be obvious immediately, others could be more subtle.

Observe whether the elder looks disheveled and is ignoring their hygiene. Some people have never been particularly concerned with their appearance but if the change occurs with someone who has always taken pride in how they dressed and looked this is a red flag. If body odor is apparent it may be because bathing has become difficult or depression has caused them to simply no longer care. Determine if washing clothes is an obstacle depending on where the laundry facilities are located.

Does the house look dirty and cluttered? Is the yard overgrown with weeds and trash piled up? Are bills and mail piled up unopened? In regards to unpaid bills it will be important to determine if this is due to a lack of income or a matter of the inability to manage their finances. Check out the kitchen to see if cupboards and refrigerator are well stocked. If the elder has lost weight is it because food preparation has become difficult or they forget to eat?

It will be important to engage each individual in conversation to gauge any confusion, forgetfulness or lack of interest in things that were once important to them. Try to determine if they are using good judgment or if they are doing things that will put them at risk of bodily harm.

As you spend time with each relative other areas of concern may be observed. Remember all of these issues can be resolved if the person is willing to accept help in their home. This does not automatically mean the elder is no longer safe to live in their own house. There are numerous services to assist them in activities of daily living. Encourage them to allow you to contact the Area Agency on Aging to find out what can be done to make life easier and safer for them.


Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.

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