Search for Assisted Living by ZIP Code:  :

Signs It's Time for Assisted Living
Identify Potential Warning Signs that It's Time for a Move

As our loved ones age, we must look for signs that show they're no longer able to live independently. It's impressive that many elders maintain lives at home; they continue to drive, manage their own finances and even appear as mentally sharp as ever. However, we must learn to identify the potential warning signs that come with the normal aging process. We compiled this list of signs that show it's time for additional senior care and assistance, possibly a move into assisted living. Here is a list of warning signs by category:

When a Home Becomes Unsafe

Stairs can become a challenge
Stairs can become a challenge

What makes a parents' home unsafe are things like stairways, slippery tile, tall shelving in kitchens and closets, winding hallways, small bathrooms, poorly lit rooms, large yards with uneven terrain, and cluttered rooms and closets.

Home accidents are a major source of injuries and too often cause death. Older adults, whose bones are less dense and brittle, are vulnerable to serious injuries from home accidents. A simple fall that results in a broken bone can become a serious, disabling injury that limits one's independence.

Mobility Issues

Mobility Issues such as:

  • Loss of movement
  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Muscle weakness: dragging of the feet while walking, letting the foot fall, shaking, limping, and lifting of the hips. It improves with exercise and using devices that facilitate mobility like grab rails, crutches, canes, adjustable beds, and wheelchairs.
  • Muscular rigidity (muscular rigidity and spasms): compensates for a loss of muscle strength, making walking easier, but higher levels make normal walking and activities for which the upper limbs help in. Stretching exercises tend are effective treatments that reduce the loss of mobility.
  • Loss of balance: walking in a wobble like manner (ataxia). Severe cases of ataxia may require aid devices that facilitate mobility.
  • Numbness or lack of sensitivity in their feet: cannot feel the ground or cannot sense where the feet are while walking. Having lessened sensitivity in hands can also make mobility difficult.
  • Fatigue can affect and aggravate mobility. When a person becomes tired, fatigue is inevitable.

Mobility affects a person's ability to carry out daily tasks.

Memory Problems

Everyone forgets things at some time. Memory loss is a problem when a loved is demonstrating one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Asking the same question(s) repeatedly.
  • Forgetting common words when speaking
  • Mixing words up - saying "table" instead of "chair"
  • Taking longer to complete familiar tasks
  • Placing items in inappropriate places, like putting a wallet in the freezer
  • Wandering aimlessly and getting lost while walking or driving around a familiar neighborhood
  • Sudden changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reasonLess able to follow directions

Personal Care or Grooming

Practicing good hygiene includes those routines that help keep the body clean. It's a problem when:

  • Body odor occurs when bacteria interacts with sweat. Personal hygiene deals with poor bathroom habits, resulting in feces or urine odor.
  • Bad breath is another consequence of poor hygiene. It develops from poor dental care like brushing and flossing teeth. Poor dental care leads to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) which causes gum disease, eventually destroying the teeth.
  • General hygiene practices can prevent contracting and spreading diseases. Hands constantly touch things (environment and your face) providing easy transportation from the surface of an infected object or person to your nose or mouth.

For older adults with medical conditions, hygienic tasks are difficult to do and living alone and exacerbates reduced personal hygiene.


Is your loved one conducting proper housekeeping activities? Observe and look around their home:

  • Is the house well maintained?
  • Are the counters and floors dirty?
  • Are spoiled foods in the refrigerator?
  • Are stale or expired foods in the pantry?
  • Is the freezer loaded with frozen dinners?
  • Are the appliances malfunctioning, especially those used frequently?
  • Are stove knobs charred, showing signs of fire?
  • Is clutter around - suggesting inability to throw things away?
  • Is there evidence of spills that haven't been cleaned up?
  • Does the bathroom show grime and clutter?
  • Have plants died?
  • Are pets attended to?
  • Does the ceiling show signs of a water leak?
  • Are newspapers shattered outside in bushes?
  • Is the mail and bills piling up?

Driving Safety

One's driving ability is a great concern. If you're worried about their driving, here's what to look for:

  • While driving, do they make sudden lane changes, drift into other lanes, use the brake or accelerate suddenly without reason?
  • Do they fail to use turn signals, or keep it on without changing lanes?
  • Do you see dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs?
  • Do they receive frequent traffic tickets or warnings tickets?
  • Are they getting lost, especially in familiar locations, while driving?
  • Do they have trouble moving their foot from the gas to the braking pedal, confusing the two pedals?
  • Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings?
  • Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps?
  • Are they experiencing road rage?
  • Are they easily distracted while driving?

Talk to a doctor about concentration or memory problems, or other physical symptoms that affect driving.

Weight Loss

Monitoring potential weight loss include looking for these signs:

  • Loss of appetite (could be caused by medications)
  • Decrease in fluids
  • Too much exercise
  • Lack of nutrition
  • Chronic illness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Loss of taste
  • Depression and loneliness
  • Inability to shop for grocery
  • Memory loss - forgets to eat

Money Management

Are they properly handling money?
Are they properly handling money?

Is your loved one able to manage money properly? Look for these signs:

  • Do you notice unpaid bills on the counter?
  • Do you see receipts for large charitable donations?
  • Do you see final notices from creditors?
  • Are they having trouble balancing the checkbook?
  • Are bounced checks returned?
  • Are utilities getting paid?

Issues with Medication

Taking prescribed medications are important for your loved one especially if he/she has medical conditions. What to look for when visiting:

  • Do you notice any expired medicine bottles or unfilled prescriptions?
  • Are they showing signs of dehydration? Those can include: a dry and sticky mouth, sleepiness, thirsty, decreased urine output, dry skin, headache, constipation, and dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Are they frequently out of medication? If so, they are taking more than needed.
  • Do they have dosage instructions for the drugs they're taking?
  • Are they having side effects?
  • Do they understand the purpose of the medication?
  • How are the meds organized?
  • Do they forget to take the meds?
  • Are they using the same pharmacy for all the prescriptions?
  • Are they hoarding the pills?
  • Are they taking more than five meds a day?
  • Do they have a list of their medical professionals?

Communication Problems

Does your loved one experience difficulties communicating feelings and emotions? Here's what to look for:

  • Difficulties in being able to speak, could be due to teeth problems, salivation or due to side effects from drugs prescribed?
  • Have they had stroke?
  • Can they hear?
  • Are they able to follow simple directions?
  • Do they pull or scratch the ears?
  • Do they respond to their when called?
  • Are they isolated and unhappy?
  • Do they have persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise?
  • Do they gesture more than sound out words?
  • Do they understand what you are saying?


These are warning signs that indicate a person is having abnormal emotions - contributing to depression. Symptoms can vary in severity - but if one or more last longer than two weeks - get medical help.

  • Persistent sad or "empty" feelings
  • Hopelessness, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Frequent sobbing
  • Increased agitation and restlessness
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Loss of concentration, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Expressing thoughts of dying or suicide
  • Persistent aches or pains

Early detection is key when assessing a loved one's safety. If you are not able to monitor your aging relative, then assisted living is a good option to ensure their safety.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.