When Should I Worry About...

The Signs It's Time to Move an Aging Parent Into a Senior Care Facility

June 22, 2023 - Katie McCallum

Caring for an aging parent is tricky for many reasons.

It's a new dynamic, one eventually marked by a complete reversal of the parent-child relationship. Your parents spent decades caring for you, not to mention a lifetime of making their own decisions and handling their own welfare. As sad as it is, age-related disease can rob parents of cherished responsibilities — a fate anyone would struggle to accept.

The details of caregiving can be confusing to navigate and seem endless at times — medical, financial and legal responsibilities are the most complex, but the everyday tasks like managing groceries and household chores aren't exactly simple.

(Related: Tips for Managing Your Aging Parents Health Care)

Then there's how it affects you. One of the biggest worries that keeps a caregiver up at night: Am I making the right decisions? Foremost among those decisions is when it's time to move a parent (or parents) into a senior care facility.

Dr. Amy Naquin-Chappel, a neurologist at Houston Methodist, is here to help us understand when it's unsafe or unhealthy for aging parents to continue to live alone and how to approach talking to them about it.

What are the concerning behaviors to look out for with an aging parent?

Changes in an aging parent's well-being can start suddenly, like after the death of a spouse. But more often than not, they come on gradually.

Dr. Naquin-Chappel says to be on the lookout for:

  • Lack of personal hygiene or care of their home
  • Safety concerns, such as leaving the oven on, trouble working household equipment or leaving doors unlocked
  • Issues driving
  • Signs of social isolation, including new onset of withdrawal, lack of interest, unusual habits (like hoarding) or changes to eating habits
  • Changes in mood, behavior and personality
  • Signs of dementia, including reduced short-term memory, difficulty navigating familiar places and trouble managing everyday tasks (taking medications, paying bills)
  • Worsening of a known medical condition
  • Increased number of falls or frailty


"The first step when noticing these signs is to have your parent evaluated by a primary-care physician or a neurologist," says Dr. Naquin-Chappel. "This is needed to determine the root cause of the symptoms and develop a treatment plan."

Dr. Naquin-Chappel notes that not all memory loss is caused by dementia, which is why medical evaluation is so important.

"We always look for other conditions that may be causing the symptoms, some of which are modifiable or even reversible," says Dr. Naquin-Chappel. "If it is dementia, an official diagnosis is key to planning for the future care and safety of the parent."

How can you tell when your aging parent shouldn't live alone anymore?

The changes mentioned above are often subtle at first, so it takes close observation to notice when one-off occurrences become a new pattern of behavior.

"Dementia symptoms, for instance, are the same throughout the course of the disease, but they often worsen as the condition progresses," explains Dr. Naquin-Chappel. "Difficulty navigating to familiar places can evolve into wandering, which can be a serious safety concern."

Trouble completing routine tasks can lead to changes in eating habits, which can lead to worsening of existing medical issues and reduced overall health.

Once a concerning behavior pattern is noticed, it's time to consider whether it's affecting your parent's safety and health. If either is at risk, it might be time to intervene and look for the hands-on help a senior care facility can provide.

Senior care facility options range from independent living and assisted living to memory care facilities and nursing homes.

"Which an aging parent might need depends on their specific circumstances, particularly the specific medical issues they have and the extent of those issues," explains Dr. Naquin-Chappel. "Your parent's doctor can help recommend the right move."

And if an aging parent isn't quite ready for senior care just yet, there are steps you can take to keep them safe at home in the meantime.

Make an aging parent's home environment as safe as possible by:

  • Removing firearms and weapons
  • Keeping car keys out of sight
  • Preventing wandering by moving door locks above or below a normal location


"With memory loss, a family member or trained professional will need to help provide oversight to manage the situation and ensure the patient's safety," says Dr. Naquin-Chappel. "It's always advised to speak to your parent's doctor about any concerns you may have. Some home health companies do safety assessments, as well."

How to approach talking to a parent about moving to a senior care facility

So you've decided it's time to move your aging parent(s) into a senior care facility. Now the hard part: Breaking it to them.

While you might be dreading the conversation, focus on trying to make the move sound positive.

Here are tips for talking to an aging parent about the decision to move to a senior care facility:

  • Emphasize the benefit of no longer having to cook, clean or do other mundane tasks
  • Encourage them to make new friends and engage in social activities on a regular basis
  • Remind them of the safety concerns of remaining at home alone


"Approach the conversation of moving to a senior care facility as an opportunity to have more life experiences and social activities, not as a negative event or loss of independence," adds Dr. Dr. Naquin-Chappel.

Stay up-to-date
By signing up, you will receive our newsletter with articles, videos, health tips and more.
Please Enter Email
Please Enter Valid Email
Categories: When Should I Worry About...