Assessing Aging Parents’ Safety

Ducks in a Row – Part 2

Assessing Aging Parents' Safety
If you anticipate that you will have to help manage the care of your aging parents, there are many factors that you will need to consider.  Assessing their safety may be the best place to start. There are five major areas of concern when it comes to assessing aging parents’ safety:




  • Are they safe in their home?
  • Are they safe to drive?
  • Can they manage their medications?

Determining if your aging parents are physically safe is fairly simple.  Go for a visit and observe. Do they have difficulty managing the stairs?  Can they negotiate easily inside of the house?  Can get around furniture, into the shower, and up the stairs?  Are there tripping hazards such as throw rugs and electrical cords?

Look at their car.  Are there new or unexplained scrapes and dents.  Go for a ride and let them drive. Do you feel safe when they are behind the wheel? Do they observe the traffic laws?  Is their vision and/or hearing impaired?  Are they a danger to themselves or other people on the road?

Are they taking a lot of medications?  Do they have a system for keeping track of when they take what?  Does the system seem organized or haphazard?


  • Are they making good decisions about personal, financial, and medical matters?
  • Can they follow directions and remember instructions?
  • Can they protect themselves against scams and unscrupulous people?

Assessing mental acuity can be tricky.  Take a look around their home.  Are there stacks of unpaid bills? Is their clutter consistent with how their home has always looked, or are papers and objects in a heightened state of disarray?

Ask them to do three things in a row and see if they can follow directions.  For instance, if you are fixing breakfast, you could ask your father to put the silverware, coffee cups and butter on the table.  Can he remember to do those three things?

Bring up the topic of scams and elderly people and see how they react.  If you think they could be vulnerable to telemarketers, find out if they have signed up for the national Do Not Call Registry which screens out unsolicited phone calls.  If not, perhaps you could go online and do it for them.  It’s a simple process that takes only a minute.   Here’s the link:


  • Is their behavior consistent with how they have behaved in the past?
  • Do they seem reasonably hopeful and optimistic, considering their circumstances?
  • Would they tell you if they were struggling with anger, guilt, depression, or grief?

Depression is a common problem among elderly people. As their health and mobility declines, and as they start losing friends and relatives, it isn’t uncommon for them to experience reactionary depression as well as clinical depression.  Click on the following links for more information on depression: Understanding Caregiver Depression


  • Do they have some type of social interaction that they look forward to on a regular basis?
  • Are they still involved in the clubs, organizations, and other groups they have enjoyed in the past?
  • Are they staying connected to long-time friends?

Elderly people often suffer from isolation and loneliness, especially when when one spouse becomes ill and they are both confined to their home .  If one parent is the primary caregiver for the other, try to arrange for some respite care so the parent who is well can get some relief.  Attending a caregiver support group, going to church, being able to have lunch with a friend, or just going to the grocery store alone can be a big help.


  • Do they have enough money to meet their current needs?
  • Are they paying their bills on time?
  • Do they have enough resources to pay for in-home health care or long-term care in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility?

Bringing  up the topic of money with aging parents will be uncomfortable for you and for your parents.  But if you will think it will be up to you to manage their care if something happens and they can no longer care for themselves, this is a discussion you must have.  You need to know how they plan to pay for long-term care if it’s needed.


  • Do they have a will or a trust?
  • Do they have a durable power of attorney?
  • Do they have an advance directive?

This is another topic that is incredibly difficult to discuss.  Nobody likes to think about incapacity and death, but when people do not invest the time and the money in completing end-of-life documents, families often end up in court fighting over issues like tube feeding and life support and the distribution of worldly possessions.

If your parents have not completed these documents, I urge you to get in touch with a good elder law attorney who can assess their situation and help them make good decisions.

If your parents have significant financial resources, look for an elder law attorney who is a member of the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association.  These elder law attorneys have geriatric social workers on staff, and they can help make decisions and find resources to help your parents.  Their expertise will make your job much, much easier.

If your parents have moderate or modest resources, contact a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

They know what needs to be done, and they know how to set up trusts to protect the well spouse from becoming impoverished by paying for long-term care.

If you feel that your parents are vulnerable in any of these areas, you will want to have a series of conversations with them so you can help them make good decisions about:

  • What needs to be done
  • When it needs to happen
  • Who can help

The next installment in getting your “Ducks in a Row” will provide tips on how to start these difficult conversations.  Elderly people tend to be very private when it comes to money.  They don’t share their activities or feelings on social media, and they may think that their business isn’t any of your business, so starting these conversations will require some understanding and finesse on your part.

It won’t be easy, but I promise, if you do it right, it will be worth it.