Assessing the Needs of an Aging Loved One – Housekeeping, Meal Prep and Personal Care



Last week we focused on assessing the ability of an aging adult to manage driving, mail and finances. We suggest taking notes if you do notice some of the changes we’ve listed in this series. It may be hard to discuss details later on and to remember everything as you are observing. Having a reference when assessing or discussing things you’ve noticed with family, friends or a doctor is important.

If you missed our first part of this series, you may want to start there: Part 1: Driving, Mail and Finances

If you have an elderly relative or neighbor, have you ever asked yourself   “When should I start to worry? What should I be looking for?”  How will I know?”   This Assessment Series will identify 8 categories to help you recognize when you should be concerned, and some things to look for that may give you a hint that help is needed.  

This week we are focused on, Housekeeping, Meal Prep and Personal Care

Again, for many of these questions, all you have to do is keep your eyes open. You’re looking for signs of change from past behavior — Are they behaving differently from their past normal patterns? If you do notice a problem: 

  • Talk it over with the older adult first, expressing your concern in a tactful, nonjudgmental way.
  • Express your concern, but don’t over-react.
  • Depending on what you hear, you may also need to talk to other family members, close friends, or the older adult’s physician.
  • Don’t panic!


Remember, you’re looking for evidence of significant change from past behavior.  So if Dad was always sloppy, the fact that he doesn’t live up to your personal standards isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. However, if Mom was the perfect housekeeper and now doesn’t seem to care that the dishes are piled up in the sink, it’s time to ask questions.

• Is the home reasonably clean?  Any major changes in the level of cleanliness?
• Are there strong unpleasant odors in the home?
• Is laundry getting done regularly? Do their clothes seem clean? Do they wear the same clothes all the time?
• Is the home cluttered? Are there potential safety hazards such as blocked walkways? 

Meal preparation and nutrition:

Appetites can change with age and activity level. And Changes in the way things taste or smell are quite common in older adults. Sometimes this may be early sign of a more serious medical problem, or may result in a problem if it leads to not eating regularly. In addition, Physical limitations such as back pain can limit the ability to stand long enough to prepare food. And Loneliness or depression can take away the desire to prepare meals.  

Here are some questions to explore:
• Are they eating regular meals?
• Do you notice signs of loss of appetite or picking at food and only eating a few foods?
• Are they able to prepare food for themselves?
• Is there a reasonable amount and variety of food in the refrigerator and cupboards?
• Any signs of rotten food, or unusual overstocking of certain items?
• Do they appear to have lost weight recently?

Personal care:

Changes in dress or personal grooming may reflect a variety of issues. Perhaps arthritis makes it difficult to put on some kinds of clothing.  But wearing the same clothes over and over may indicate problems.

• Does the person appear well-groomed and appropriately dressed?
• Are their clothes clean?
• Do they change clothes regularly, or do they always seem to be wearing the same thing?
• Does he or she seem to be bathing regularly?
• Can he or she get in and out of the tub or shower without assistance?
• Does the person seem to be taking their medications? Does they have a system for remembering when to take them?

To continue reading on about assessing your aging loved one, go to Part 3: Social Behavior and Mental Status




Erin is a Care Manager and advocate with more than 30 years experience working with senior adults; she’s worked as a charge nurse in long term care facilities, an advocate and outreach nurse to at-risk/homeless elderly, private duty home-care, communications manager for a Medicare peer review organization, and as an Aging & Eldercare Program Manager at SAS Institute. Her experience also includes marketing and healthcare education for Hospice of Wake County (now Transitions LifeCare).