Aging parents health guide: 5 questions to judge health state

Everyone is concerned about parents’ health problems. As they get older, you want to make sure they are keeping healthy. When you visit your aging parents, ask yourself the following five questions.

1. Have your aging parents lost weight?

Losing weight without trying could be a sign that something’s wrong. For aging parents, weight loss could be related to many factors, including:

Difficulty cooking. Your parents could be having difficulty finding the energy to cook, grasping the tools necessary to cook, or reading labels or directions on food products.

Loss of taste or smell. Some loss of taste and smell is natural with aging, especially after age 60. In other cases, illness or medication contributes to loss of taste or smell. Your parents might not be interested in eating if food doesn’t taste or smell as good as it used to.

Underlying conditions. Sometimes weight loss is a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as malnutrition, dementia, depression or cancer.

2. Are your aging parents taking care of themselves?

Pay attention to your parents’ appearance. Are their clothes clean? Do they appear to be taking good care of themselves? Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing, tooth brushing and other basic grooming — could indicate health problems such as dementia, depression or physical impairments.

Also pay attention to your parents’ home. Are the lights working? Is the heat on? Are the bathrooms clean? Is the yard overgrown? Any big changes in the way your parents do things around the house could provide clues to their health. For example, scorched pots could mean your parents are forgetting about food cooking on the stove. Neglected housework could be a sign of depression, dementia or other problems.

3. Are your aging parents safe in their home?

Take a look around your parents’ home, keeping an eye out for any red flags. Do your parents have difficulty navigating a narrow stairway? Has either parent fallen recently? Are they able to read directions on medication containers?

4. Are your aging parents in good spirits?

Note your parents’ moods and ask how they’re feeling. A drastically different mood or outlook could be a sign of depression or other health concern. Also talk to your parents about their activities. Are they connecting with friends? Have they maintained interest in hobbies and other daily activities? Are they involved in social organizations or clubs? If they’re religious, do they attend regular worship services?

5. Are your aging parents having difficulty getting around?

Pay attention to how your parents are walking. Are they reluctant or unable to walk usual distances? Is knee or hip arthritis making it difficult to get around the house? Would either parent benefit from a cane or walker? Muscle weakness, joint problems and other age-related changes can make it difficult to move around as well. If your parents are unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling — a major cause of disability among older adults.

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