When Elderly Parents Don’t Clean Their Home

Elderly parents hoard & don't clean
In their senior years, even those who kept their homes neat and tidy may stop cleaning and accumulate unsafe amounts of clutter. Some may find cleaning up too difficult due to mental decline coupled with physical pain. The result may be an unsanitary home full of tripping hazards that caretakers must address.

As mom and dad get older, things often get complicated when aging parents are unable to keep their homes clean and tidy. Family members often have to tackle the problem to ensure that the elders live in a clean and safe environment. Why does this happen? What can you do to help combat it?

What Are Some Of The Difficulties When Elderly Parents Don’t Clean?

Elderly parents who do not clean can cause some concerns.

First, having stacks of items, such as appears in a house where someone is hoarding, can present safety hazards. Piles can fall over, your parents (and one who comes into the home) can trip over clutter, and the house can be a fire risk. The solution is more than just picking up things and decluttering if they are hoarders.

Another issue can arise from an unclear house if trash is not being taken out or dishes washed. This can present some genuine sanitation issues. Insects and even mice can become a problem when there is half-eaten food and unwashed dishes left out, and then you have more than one issue to contend with.

Failure to keep a house tidy also makes it difficult to find things you need. For example, it is easier to misplace glasses, medication, or other medical necessities if the home is a mess; it may even be difficult to get to the bed, so they sleep in the living room.

Filthy kitchen

Why Do Elderly People Stop Cleaning Their Homes And Ignoring Hygiene?

There are many reasons why adult children often find themselves concerned with the state of their parent’s home or personal hygiene. Especially if the parents have always been very neat, the change may signal other problems.

  • Cognitive Issues: Adult children of elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia may find that their parents simply don’t remember to do routine tasks they have done their whole life.
  • Health Issues: Chronic health issues can prevent people from doing certain household tasks. Whether it is from a lack of energy or trouble moving around, getting older can make daily tasks challenging.
  • Mental Health: People suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues can make cleaning their homes and body difficult.
  • Mobility Issues: When someone struggles to get around, doing tasks like vacuuming can be strenuous. If standing for any length of time is a challenge, that makes a multitude of tasks difficult to accomplish.
  • Monetary Constraints: If money is tight, elderly people may not purchase items to clean their houses. They might skimp on doing laundry to save money on laundry soap and water.
  • Problems Letting Things Go: Older adults sometimes become hoarders because they have trouble getting rid of things. This can be because of the deep memories and attachment they have formed to their “stuff” or because the items may remind them of a deceased loved one.

When Should Caretakers Become Concerned About Clutter

Clutter around a home becomes a serious problem if it becomes dangerous to your parents’ well-being. Here are some things to be concerned about:

  • Are there piles that could either fall over or become a tripping hazard?
  • Does trash need to be taken out?
  • Does the home have an unpleasant odor?
  • Is the house dirty?
  • Is the sink filled with dirty dishes or items with caked-on food?
Buying too much for the space

How Can You Help If Your Elderly Parent Is A Hoarder?

Signs that someone you know may be a hoarder:

  • Acquiring a lot of items that are not needed or that they lack room for
  • Becoming upset when someone throws away things, even if they have no actual monetary value
  • Build up of clutter such that you can no longer use the room
  • Needing to save items

How can you help?

Hoarding goes beyond collecting items and saving important memories from the past. It is a condition that can impact the quality of life. Many people with a hoarding problem require extensive therapy and medication to get past the problem.

If your goal is to make your parents’ home safe, sometimes the only thing you can do is fight one small battle like making the main area, such as the living room, cleaner and habitable.

What Is The Best Way To Approach This With An Elderly Parent?

When approaching someone who is not keeping the home tidy, approach it carefully and tactfully. Try to express how you are simply worried about their well-being.

1. Be Supportive

Remember that the older adult in your life is struggling. Be kind, patient, and supportive.

2. Collaborate

Don’t assume they won’t also have thoughts on tackling the problem. You may find that things got out of hand but will be better in the future if they can just get things under control. Maybe they are ready to declutter, but the task is overwhelming. They might appreciate help cleaning out old possessions.

Cleaning frenzy

3. Hire Someone

If you have the financial means, pose hiring a cleaning service as a gift. Saying that you are gifting a day cleaning service might just make it easier to swallow. Frame it as something you sometimes treat your own home to, and just want to gift them the same thing.

4. Offer Help

It is quite possible that your loved one wants to have a tidy house again and simply is not able to do it. If you offer help, they might just be grateful. Think about which tasks might be the most daunting and divide and conquer. Guide your mother-in-law into a task for her to easily do while you do a more strenuous job such as mopping.

Clean vs dirty stove

5. Start Small

When giving assistance, whether it is at your parent’s house or someone else, start with something small. If you just offer to do one little thing they might accept it.

What Are Some Strategies To Help Elderly Parents Keep Their Home Clean And Safe?

Are your elderly parents having difficulty keeping their house clean and you are looking for strategies? First, ask yourself what they need most. Is the problem that they have too much stuff for the size of their place but do not want to part with anything? Perhaps renting a storage unit would help.

If you think that the problem is more cognitive in nature and they simply don’t remember to do certain tasks, you could help with reminders of tasks that need to be done on a regular basis. Plan to visit a couple of times each week to tend to jobs like taking out the trash and making sure dishes are done.

Of course, if your parents are trying to stay in their own home as they age, you may wish to find some in-home care for them. You don’t need to have medical issues or need to hire someone to help with basic household tasks like light cleaning and organizing.

Sometimes a person who is suffering from anxiety or depression can benefit from medication, and that can help in the quest to get their home cleaner and safer. After all, we all want a comfortable life as we enter old age.

Overwhelmed senior

When Is Poor Housekeeping A Sign Your Parents Need Different Housing Arrangements?

While a messy house does not mean you need to pack up your mom or dad and send them to a nursing home, it should give cause to pause and reflect. You need to ask yourself a few questions. If your loved one is no longer able to live alone, know that there are many senior care options including hiring a caregiver, assisted living, etc.

  • Are there signs of diminished cognitive function?
  • Do they have dangerous clutter that they won’t allow you to move or remove?
  • Is your loved one taking care of things that you consider essential to living in a way that is clean, sanitary, and safe?
  • Is your friend or family member open to receiving help? Do they recognize that there is a problem or are they in denial?
  • What is the extent of the problems you are seeing in the house?

None of these conversations are easy or comfortable, but you are doing the right thing. Good luck.

Pam B.

Pam Berg is a former English teacher with a passion for writing. She has written for many years on various topics and considers herself somewhat of a jack of all trades when it comes to writing. Having hit the magical number which qualifies her for AARP opened Pam’s eyes to challenges, concerns, and life changes unique to senior citizens.

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