You love your mom dearly and have always admired her pride and independence. A few years ago your dad passed away, and now that your mother is in her late 70s you’re concerned about her living alone. You’re sure that she could use some help taking care of her home, but you live over 3 hours away and only see her about once a month. And, you have your own household and job to manage. As her only daughter, you feel frustrated and would like to do more.

Mom just hasn’t seemed like herself on the phone lately, and you suspect she’s feeling lonely. In fact, the last time you visited she just didn’t look right, and the house was cluttered. What should you do? Discussing some home care with your mom too soon could put her on the defensive. To ensure the timing is right, look for these signs.

Physical Signs

If your mom is feeling lonely and depressed, she’s probably not eating well. Does she look thinner and frail? How does she feel when you hug her? Is she having trouble driving? In addition to those physical signs, here are some others to look for:

  • Bruises and cuts. These typically indicate falls and accidents, although your mom may deny they’ve happened. For seniors, stairs and the bathroom can be the most dangerous areas of the home.
  • Poor grooming and hygiene. Is your mom’s appearance being kept up like before? Look for stained and disheveled clothing, along with unkempt hair, body odor and other poor grooming indicators.
  • Diminished mobility. Does it seem like your mom is having trouble getting around, notably on stairs? Is she having a hard time getting up and down when sitting? Nearly all seniors experience diminished mobility at some point.

An Unkept Home

Having trouble staying up with house and yard is another red flag that your mom could use some help around her home. A lack of mobility, feeling depressed, or even the onset of cognitive impairment can all interfere with a senior’s ability to carry out routine housekeeping tasks. Other signs around the home to watch for include:

  • Dirty dishes. Is your mom’s kitchen decorated with stacks of dishes that need to be washed?
  • Unwashed laundry. Look for piles of dirty laundry lying around the home.
  • Empty fridge. Is there nutritious food in her refrigerator, and is it clean inside? An empty fridge could indicate trouble getting to the store, financial problems, or a general lack-of-interest in eating.
  • Stained carpets and upholstery. Are there any large and noticeable carpet or couch stains that have been around for your last couple of visits?
  • A dirty bathroom. Check the bathroom toilet, tub, sink and floor for unsanitary build-ups of scum and dirt.
  • Outside the home. Are the lawn and flower beds being kept up like before? If your mom has historically taken pride in her home’s exterior, has that now changed?
  • Piles of mail. Check for piles of unopened mail in the home including bills. These could mean simple forgetfulness, or something more serious like financial trouble or cognitive impairment. Unpaid bills could also be a sign of financial scammers, so gently ask your mom if she’s doing okay financially. Beware of strangers at your mom’s when you’re not there, or her complaining about bill collectors harassing her.

Neglecting Activities and Appointments

We all occasionally miss an appointment, but if your mom is repeatedly neglecting her doctor visits and social activities, something’s wrong. Is she still attending her Tuesday bridge club with the ladies? Has she stopped pursuing her life-long love