No one likes to see his or her parent getting older. But there are signs you need to be on the lookout for that may indicate an underlying larger health problem.

“It’s just a part of getting old!” But, is it? Signs of aging are just a part of life, but sometimes certain clues can indicate a trip to the doctor is necessary. Remember, early intervention is key: in some cases you can catch an illness or condition before it turns into a full-blown problem or at the least, slow its progression.

1. Appearance

How a parent looks can tell you a lot: Has he or she lost a lot of weight without trying? How is his or her hygiene? Are they brushing their teeth and wearing clean clothes? If a person stops paying attention to how they look entirely, it may be a sign of depression, dementia or reveal an underlying physical limitation and should be evaluated by a doctor.

2. Appetite

It’s normal for people to eat less as they age and their metabolism slows down. But if you notice a parent isn’t eating or refuses to eat in front of you, this could be an indicator of depression, teeth or gum problems or something more.

3. Bathroom frequency

Urinary incontinence is another condition that’s common in seniors. It can impact their quality of life and make them turn down invitations to social events. What many seniors don’t know is that there are medications and treatments that can help. It could also indicate a prostate problem. Even if it’s awkward, it could be life-saving to talk to your parent about how often they are using the restroom.

4. Social life

Those with friends tend to live longer, happier, more fulfilling lives. If your mom or dad starts isolating himself or herself, especially if they were socially active before, it may be a sign they are depressed or less energetic because of an underlying condition.

5. Memory

It’s not concerning if an older person can’t remember an old co-worker’s name or even the name of the movie they saw last week. What is more concerning is if they can’t remember the route home from the grocery store that they’ve shopped at for a decade or if they start forgetting common words (like refrigerator or shower). This can be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

6. Are they steady on their feet?

Falls are a top danger for seniors. Pay attention to how mom or dad looks going up the stairs. Is he or she able to sit down in a chair without arm rests? It may be time to consider assisted-living or make modifications to their home to keep them safe from falls.

7. How does the house look?

In addition to keeping an eye out for tripping hazards, is the house clean? It doesn’t have to be spic and span, but unusual amounts or trash, dirty dishes with caked on food or burnt pots and pans are all red flags that mom or dad may have depression, dementia or another health problem.

8. How is he or she behind the wheel?

Pay attention to how easily your parent is able to get in and out of the car or if they can turn their neck to check blind spots. Newer models of cars have safety modifications that are a benefit to older drivers. Of if a parent can’t read street signs or seems confused, it may be time for an eye check up or to stop driving altogether.

If you notice any of these, have a respectful conversation with your parent. If your parent is dismissive of your concerns, you can contact their doctor directly to share what you’ve noticed.

Not sure how to start the conversation? Reach out to your primary care physician for help. If you are local to Southern California and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit http://keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.

By Anne Fritz