How to Spot Health Problems in Your Aging Parents

How to Spot Health Problems in Your Aging Parents

If you’ve noticed changes in your parents as they’re getting older, you may be wondering what healthy aging really looks like. Here’s how to know if the differences you’re seeing are normal, or if they could be a sign of something more serious.

If your parents are getting older, you can expect to notice some changes. “As we age, there are physical changes we have to adjust to,” says Sharon A. Brangman, MD, chair of the department of geriatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and the director of the Upstate Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease. However, many of these changes are totally normal, and they don’t always signal a problem, she adds.

So how do you tell the difference between healthy aging and a potential mental or physical problem? This guide will help you understand when you should be concerned, and when your parents are probably doing fine.

# Aging Parents: Warning Signs of a Problem

When trying to figure out if your parents are healthy and getting by okay on their own, the first thing to look at is what Dr. Brangman calls changes in the instrumental activities of daily living. “These are changes in function that affect a person’s ability to get through the day, including things they do to interact with the world around them or to maintain the household,” she explains. Such changes may include:

**Changes in the Level of Organization in Maintaining the Household** “For example, if you start to see mail piling up, food spoiled in the refrigerator, or the refrigerator not stocked,” Brangman says. However, if your mom or dad was always disorganized, that doesn’t always signal a problem. “You’re looking for a change from the normal pattern,” she adds.

**Not Keeping Track of Medications** This means anything from not taking their medication every day and correctly, to not getting refills.

**Not Managing Bills and Finances** “Some people start to notice that their parents are not opening bills or critical bills are not being paid,” says Brangman.