Giving Care: Senior & Disabled Caregiver Resource Blog

24 Signs of Declining Health in Elderly Loved Ones

24 Signs of Declining Health in Elderly Loved Ones
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While it seems like signs of declining health in elderly loved ones should be obvious, that isn’t always the case. In fact, you might dismiss early signs of declining health as one-off incidents, when in actuality they make up a pattern of behavior that points to a slow downturn in their physical and mental health. If you are trying to figure out whether your elderly loved one needs additional help, or whether or not to move them into an assisted living facility, here are 24 signs of declining health to watch out for:

Mood Swings or Changes in Personality

Menopause and other hormonal changes caused by aging can result in mood swings, so this isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary. However, dementia can cause some significant changes in personality, including episodes of rage or aggression that are completely out of character for the person. 

Signs of Depression or Anxiety

Many life changes that come with age — especially the loss of loved ones — make older adults prone to experiencing both depression and anxiety. Coupled with a loss of mobility, this can cause them to withdraw from social activities and develop an aversion to leaving the house. Neither depression nor anxiety is a common part of aging, and your loved one should seek mental health treatment for it if they are exhibiting symptoms.

declining health sign forgetfulness
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We all forget things occasionally, but this increases as we get older and as cognition declines. Forgetfulness becomes especially pronounced in people who are developing dementia, and this can show up in many ways. People experiencing this decline may forget things in both short-term and long-term memory, such as the date of their child’s birthday or turning off the stove. If your loved one seems to be forgetting an unusually high number of things, it may be worthwhile to have them screened for dementia.


Along with forgetfulness, some adults will also show confusion and disorientation around where they are located and where they are going. They may suddenly forget that they are at a loved one’s home (or even their own home) and become agitated or confused. They might also start to drive to a familiar place, forget directions while they are mid-way  and become lost. Some adults with dementia are also prone to wandering on foot.

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Not sleeping enough, waking up many times during the night and sleeping excessively can be signs of physical and mental health concerns in aging people. In some cases, these sleep issues might be a secondary result caused by another health problem, such as incontinence in the middle of the night. In other situations, the changes in sleep patterns are the central problem  and need to be treated directly.

Lack of Personal Hygiene

If you notice that your loved one is not bathing regularly, brushing their teeth or combing their hair, this is almost always a sign of declining health. Many adults with dementia lose track of basic hygiene routines. Other adults might skip out on hygiene tasks that have become too difficult due to a physical health problem — for instance, some people may stop  brushing their hair because their arthritis has limited their range of motion.

Trouble Dressing and Undressing

Dressing and undressing  can be quite challenging for elderly people. Some people may struggle to dress themselves regularly or to disrobe in time to use the toilet. Switching to adaptive clothing, such as men’s elastic waist pants and nightgowns for women, can help these people continue to dress themselves for a longer period of time. Adaptive clothing will also make it easier for a caregiver to dress and undress their client if help is needed in this area.

Inappropriate Clothing Choices

People with dementia don’t always know what season or weather it is, which can lead to making inappropriate clothing choices, such as wearing shorts during the winter. Some people may also repeat their outfit regularly, either because they don’t remember wearing it the day before or because they have trouble changing out of clothes. You might also notice their clothes start to smell if they are wearing it multiple times before laundry day (or putting off laundry indefinitely).

declining health sign sudden disrobing
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As dementia or Alzheimer’s progresses, elderly people may try to suddenly remove their clothing at inappropriate times, including while they are in public. Anti-strip clothing can help prevent this behavior, but this clothing style also requires a caregiver’s assistance to put it on and off. Once people have entered this stage of dementia, they typically require a higher level of care overall and may no longer be able to live on their own.

Difficulty Toileting

Some older adults struggle with incontinence, which can be caused by numerous health problems Sometimes incontinence can also be a side effect of medications they are taking. Arthritis can also make it difficult to get to the bathroom on time or to disrobe quickly. If people  are struggling with incontinence, they should talk to their doctor about the underlying causes and possible  solutions.

Unpaid Bills or Canceled Utilities

Some older adults may forget to pay important bills as their cognitive decline continues, causing overdue notices to pile up at home. If this persists long enough, utilities may be canceled altogether. When you visit their home, look for overdue notices for unpaid bills and other signs that they aren’t paying their accounts. Setting up autopay for them may be a good solution to pursue.

Kitchen Appliances Left On

One of the most hazardous ways forgetfulness can manifest is older adults leaving on kitchen appliances such as stoves and ovens. If your loved one does this continually, that is likely a sign of cognitive decline, and it may no longer be safe for them to cook on their own. Leaving the stove on creates a great risk of fire and also carbon monoxide poisoning (if they have a gas stove).

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Low Food Supply or Expired Food

Older adults may forget to go to the grocery store, leading to low food supplies at home. They may also buy food and then forget to use it up before it goes bad, resulting in lots of spoiled or expired food. When you visit, check the pantry and fridge to see if lots of food has gone bad or out of date.

No Longer Cooking

If your loved ones have suddenly switched from home-cooked meals to frozen dinners, it could be a side effect of their declining health. Older adults may struggle with the cognitive skills and memory needed to plan a meal, drive to the grocery store and buy the correct items. They might also lack the physical energy and range of motion needed to prep, cook and wash up.

declining health sign appetite loss
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Loss of Appetite

Another reason your loved one might stop cooking is because they are no longer hungry. This loss of appetite can be a side effect of many things, including physical health problems as well as mental health problems such as depression. If your loved one doesn’t want to eat or isn’t eating as much, then they should get checked out by a doctor.

Weight Loss or Gain

This loss of appetite will manifest as weight loss if it persists over time. On the other hand, your loved one might have unexplained weight gain due to eating unhealthy food or eating too much food. Watch your loved one for large, unexplained weight fluctuations in either direction and talk with their doctor about potential causes.

Messy House and Yard

Many older adults cut back on house and yard chores as they get older and physical activity becomes more difficult. The yard is typically the first to go, followed by major household chores, and then finally basic cleanup like vacuuming and dusting. If the house is messy, disorganized, or unclean, that’s a sure sign that their mental and physical health is declining. Hiring lawn care and house cleaning services can help people age in place for longer, but it might not be a forever solution.

More Dings and Scrapes on the Car

Vision impairments and cognitive decline make driving a car more difficult–which means that older people are more likely to sustain dings and scrapes on their car. They may also get into collisions  that cause more damage and not tell their family. Whenever you visit them, check out their car for signs of accidents.

declining health sign not driving
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Not Driving at All

Some older adults might stop driving at all or even avoid public transportation if they have difficulty remembering where to go. This often causes them to skip doctor’s appointments, family dinners, social events and other outings that require them to leave the house. If your elderly loved one’s car is gathering dust, talk to them about why they’re no longer driving or getting out of the house.

Difficulty with Stairs

Going up and down the stairs is extremely difficult for older adults with arthritis and other health problems can also pose a fall risk, as well. These people may only go up the stairs when absolutely necessary.  They may also stop using the second floor of their home all together. In these cases, it’s usually best to move them into a single-story home of an assisted living facility with elevators that replace the stairs entirely.

More Falls and Tripping

Increased falling incidents are another sign of declining health. Elderly people have many risk factors that increase their risk of a fall. Falls can result in fractures, breaks and other injuries that exacerbates their existing health issues. Wearing non-skid shoes at all times, even inside, will help to reduce your loved one’s risk of a fall.

Unexplained Bruises or Injuries

If your loved one has unexplained bruises or injuries, they may have fallen and not told you—or they may have even forgotten about it. They may also get burns from leaving on a stove or cuts on their hands from mishandling a kitchen knife. If they have a caretaker, unexplained injuries can also be signs of elder abuse. If you notice any signs of injury, take it seriously and try to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

declining health sign more illnesses
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More Illnesses

This one seems obvious, but it is important to note: Elderly people will experience more illnesses as their health declines. This happens partly because their immune system is weaker, so they are more susceptible to every cold and flu bug going around. Health problems also tend to worsen over time, so conditions that were once mild require a higher level of care.

Mistakes with Medications

Due to memory loss, older adults may accidentally skip or double up on medication dosages as their cognition declines. This can have serious negative effects on their health, so it’s of paramount importance to track their medications and make sure they are taking the right dosage at the right time of day.

Making everyday changes, such as switching from traditional to adaptive clothing, can help your elderly loved ones to maintain independence even if they have declining health. Silverts adaptive clothing makes a great gift for nursing home residents and other elderly people in your life. All orders ship free within the contiguous United States and come with a 60-day return policy so you can shop online with peace of mind.

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