Together but not coping: signs that aging parents may need extra help

So often when we talk about seniors at home, we assume that issues around independent living at home and seniors only happen when a loved one lives alone.

However, often an older couple may be still living in their own home, but not be coping well due to ill health, disability, increasing lack of mobility or simply advancing years.

Still married into old age

The numbers of married couples potentially in this situation are not inconsiderable. In 2020, the age group with the most married people was:

  • 1.6million aged 55 to 59 years

This fell to:

  • 397,000 for those aged 80 to 84


  • 188,498 for those aged 85 to 89 years

In contrast in 2020, there were just:

  • 36,799 single people aged 80-84 years


  • 22,770 aged 85 to 89 years old

The statistics also do not include those who co-habit with a long-term partner of any gender.

Equally fit and healthy?

It’s not always the case that every couple have aged at the same pace, not share the same state of health. If one partner is in poor health, it often falls to the other to be their caregiver, whether formally recognized as such or not.

If one has mobility issues and requires physical help to move around, this can limit their spouse’s capability and availability to go out. One partner may also develop dementia or Alzheimer’s which limits their cognitive abilities, pushing a further burden of care and decision-making on the other partner.

If you are lucky enough to have both parents still alive, this is a situation you may recognise already. Whether you support them on a regular basis, or can only make occasional visits, it’s important to spot the signs that as a couple or an individual, they may not be coping well with the gradual changes in their physical health and mental wellbeing.

Spot the signs

In past articles we’ve covered how a visit at Christmas is a great time to spot the signs of an older parent not coping at home, especially if their mobility is declining. It’s sometimes more difficult to spot the signs that a couple isn’t coping, especially if your parents try to “gloss over” the issues.

So, try to look beyond the “we’re fine, honey” statements and check for everyday scenarios that are causing problems or concerns for your mom and dad. These might include:

Declining mental capability of the parent who always looked after the finances

If the spouse who paid the bills, did the tax returns and managed the investments loses either mental or physical capabilities, this falls on the shoulders o the remaining spouse. For some, this may be a whole new experience and it might worry them a lot. As an adult child, you should apply for a Power of Attorney so that if you need to step in and help a parent with financial issues, you have the authority to do so. (See our article here on LPAs.)

Inability to go out due to ill health or disability of their partner

If one parent has a disability, it’s all too easy to assume that the other will be able to move them around. However, people in wheelchairs are heavy to push if you’ve got mobility issues yourself, or declining strength. It’s often just simpler to “stay safe and warm at home”, leading to a loss of social interaction and stimulation outside of the house. Practical steps such as home grocery deliveries may solve the transport and mobility issues, but the levels of social and personal contact won’t be the same as in-person shopping.


As the saying goes, you can be lonely in crowd. You can also be lonely sitting net to someone you have loved for years but not longer lives in the present mentally, or has simply lost a level of interaction and communication. There’s also the issue of what to talk about, when days can all be remarkably similar.

Physical exhaustion

It may seem odd to suggest that parents living together might be exhausted, but again it may be a case of unequal workloads. If aging parent try to continuing doing strenuous physical tasks because it’s what they’ve always done, it can tire them out. Caring for a loved one can also be physically tiring if one parent is constantly “on the go’ looking after the other and running the home too.

Lack of sleep

Lack of sleep can really affect their mental and physical capabilities during the day, and have long-term health implications. As the Sleep Foundation points out:

> “Sleeping less than seven hours per night on a regular basis increases the risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Sleep deprivation is also linked to reduced immune function, metabolic dysregulation and weight gain, and a greater risk of falls and accidents. Prolonged sleep deprivation also affects memory and cognitive functions.”

(See our article on sleep here.)

Studies have shown that even in healthy adults, it can take up to four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep. If seniors are having problems sleeping due to health reasons or the disrupted sleep patterns of their partner, it will take them more time to clear that ’sleep debt’.

How home care can help

Our range of home care services specifically target the main issues faced by aging parents living at home.

  • Our caregivers can deliver ongoing personal care on a regular if not daily basis. This relives the physical burden on the other parent and also offers a chance for them to have a little time for themselves each visit.
  • Our caregivers don’t just deliver care and disappear! Our 2-hour home care visits can include help with light housekeeping, laundry, meal planning and other practical help around the home. They’ll also gauge exactly when to help and when to not: For example, your dad might be happy to load the laundry into the machine, but not be capable of physically removing wet laundry and hanging it up to dry. Our Partner companies can also help with physically demanding tasks such as snow clearance, yard maintenance, external repairs and home decorating.
  • With Vytality, your parents’ home care is delivered by their chosen caregiver, who soon becomes a familiar face and a friend too. There’s an unexpected bonus of the social continuity too. If your own work day consists of getting up, walking 20 yards to your home office and working all day, you haven’t got much news to share with mom and dad! A regular caregiver will often share their own family news, and discuss what’s happening in the wider world. This provides much-needed “fresh” news when your own may be limited to work and a dog walk!
  • Home care visits are not just about the chores either. Our caregivers love to sit and chat, and can also provide entertaining brain games and other activities to keeping minds active and stimulated.
Home care tryouts as a Christmas gift

If your parents need extra help but are reluctant to consider it, why not give them a surprise Christmas gift of a few hours of home care as a try-out? If they know it’s all paid for and there’s no obligation, they can enjoy the experience. If they decide to continue, all our care plans are tailored to the current needs of aging couples. They also have flexibility built in, so if circumstances change and more help ids required, you or your parents can simply request it by calling us or via the Vytality app.

If you’d like to give the gift of home care this Christmas:

We’re here to help!

Exceptional Care, by exceptional caregivers, helping seniors stay independent in their own home.


539, 5940 Macleod Trail SWCalgary, AB