This article covers some of the signals of decline to help you recognise whether social care or further support could provide a better quality of life for an elderly person.

Decline in the level of mobility

Have you noticed a decline in the ease with which someone can get around? For increasing difficulty with mobility consider whether a mobility aid such as a walking stick, walking frame or rollator would help (the main difference between a walker and a rollator is that a walker doesn’t have wheels so is lifted for movement, whereas a rollator has wheels so can be pushed). 

Walking sticks, walking frames and rollators can be borrowed from the NHS – speak to a GP, physiotherapist or hospital staff. You might have to pay a deposit. They can also be bought online or from mobility shops.

Recent injury or accident

Keep an eye out for injuries, however minor:
  • Cuts and burns could indicate that someone is struggling to cook safely
  • Other types of injuries such as bruises might indicate that someone is having problems with their balance, knocking against things in the home or even falling
  • Accidents may also occur as a result of memory loss. 

Because any of these scenarios can become even more serious with time, it is a good idea to start thinking about whether care within the home (even as basic as for an hour a day) could help to keep the person monitored and safe.

Increasingly poor diet

Forgetting meals, losing weight or a decline in the ability or willingness to prepare meals could suggest that extra support is needed at meal times. Proper nutrition is especially important in later years to maintain health and energy, even more so if appetite naturally reduces.
Domiciliary care (also known as care at home, or hourly care) can include support with shopping and preparing meals. The Royal Voluntary Service also has useful information about foods to eat to minimise the risk of malnutrition which can make a major difference to the health and quality of life of older people.

A change in behaviour or moods

The emotional and physical changes that we experience as we age can bring about changes in behaviour, and minor changes such as occasional forgetfulness are to be expected. However, unusual or worrying new behaviours such as serious memory loss, paranoia, confusion, mood swings or difficulties in communication can signal a decline in mental health.

If you are concerned about any behaviours or mood in an older person, you should contact your local authority or GP to arrange a care needs assessment. There is no cost for a care needs assessment and the results will help you to understand if any further social care or support is needed.

A decline in personal hygiene

If you notice a change in someone’s willingness or ability to keep clean, the first step is to try to figure out why. 

Not washing enough could be due to a number of reasons:

  • Forgetfulness could be an issue
  • The senses, including smell, can dull in later life, so the person also may not realise they are noticeably unclean and might need to have it gently and tactfully pointed out to them. 
  • Injury or illness such as arthritis might make bathing or showering difficult, in which case it is worth investigating bath and shower mobility aids, or hiring a carer to help make the situation more comfortable.
  • People can be worried about slipping and falling, even without illness or injury.

Forgotten or mixed up medication

Not taking medication, or taking the incorrect dose, can unfortunately have serious consequences.

Small print on medicine packaging can be difficult for elderly people with reduced vision. If this is the case, you can ask the pharmacist for medicine labelling and patient information leaflets in large print. 

Memory loss, such as the kind caused by dementia, can mean people forget to take medicine. It can also lead to people not remembering they have already taken their medication, and taking it again, which is obviously very risky. 

Dividing medicine up into plastic daily pill organisers (available online, in pharmacists and in mobility shops) can also help with knowing what to take and when. You can also ask your pharmacist to deliver medication weekly, packaged in what is called a dosette box, with multiple compartments divided by time and date.

 However in cases of more advanced memory loss, professional carers can take responsibility for administering medication, reducing worry all round.

Financial matters becoming disorganised

If you notice unopened or unpaid bills starting to mount up, forgetfulness about payments, or increasing worry about money, this may be a sign that assistance is needed.

Other behaviours such as:

  • suddenly giving lots of money away
  • making unusually extravagant purchases
  • not having enough money on them to make purchases could indicate memory or judgement problems.

If you are concerned about a decline in financial matters, book a free care needs assessment with your local authority to put your mind at ease.

Are you thinking about care?

If you recognise some of these signs in your loved one, you might want to start considering care. Care packages can start very small – it can be as simple as coming around and having a cup of tea and a chat, helping with the shopping, or helping to tidy up. Read more about the different care types that are available, including care homes, home care and live in care.

Care Sourcer shows you all types of social care services, using a searchable online directory of local care agencies

If you need care urgently, our team of care experts are also available by telephone on freephone 0800 048 8618 to guide you through the process.