Assessing the Needs of an Aging Loved One: Social Behavior and Mental Status



In this series we have covered the assessments of driving, mail, money management, housekeeping, meal prep and personal care. We’ve included tips for monitoring, as well as the importance of keeping written notes of your observances.

Have you noticed anything in the older adult? Remember that there could be a variety of explanations for many of these problems, including simple loss of mobility, physical limitations, chronic pain, vision or other sensory losses, confusion due to medication problems, depression, or possibly dementia. Help may be needed, but the person may still be able to continue living independently once problems are identified and supports are in place.  

If you’re just reading this now, you may have missed part 1 and 2 of this series and we encourage you to start here: Part 1: Driving, Mail and Finances

In the final week of our series we are focused on, changes in social behavior and mental status.

Again, for many of these questions, all you have to do is keep your eyes open. You’re looking for signs of change from past behavior — Are they behaving differently from their past normal patterns? We can’t express enough that if you do notice changes – DO NOT PANIC! If you need help, LifeLinks is always here for your support.

  • Talk it over with the older adult first, expressing your concern in a tactful, nonjudgmental way.
  • Express your concern, but don’t over-react.
  • Depending on what you hear, you may also need to talk to other family members, close friends, or the older adult’s physician.

Changes in Social Behavior:

If there have been changes in this area, the question is, “why?” Is it a transportation problem? Do they avoid social gatherings because hearing loss makes conversation difficult?  Are they withdrawing from the world because of grief or depression?

•Does the person still see friends and participate in social activities? If not, why not?
•If they went to church previously, do they still go?
•Do they seem lonely or isolated?

Mental status:

The following are indicators that there may be a problem with depression or a neurological disorder. Remember there can be other explanations for these behaviors, don’t assume that “it’s just old age”. It is not a normal part of aging to be miserable, focused on death, or living in the past.

•Have they lost interest in things they used to enjoy?
•Do they seem unusually worried, hopeless, or sad?
•Do they repeat questions or stories over and over?
•Do you have to repeat or explain things multiple times to get them to understand?
•Are they able to recall recent events accurately?
•Do they have difficulty concentrating on a conversation, a book, or a television program?
•Do they seem unusually sleepy during the day? Do they have a regular sleep schedule?
•Do they seem uncharacteristically angry or suspicious?




Erin is a Care Manager and advocate with more than 30 years experience working with senior adults; she’s worked as a charge nurse in long term care facilities, an advocate and outreach nurse to at-risk/homeless elderly, private duty home-care, communications manager for a Medicare peer review organization, and as an Aging & Eldercare Program Manager at SAS Institute. Her experience also includes marketing and healthcare education for Hospice of Wake County (now Transitions LifeCare).