It can be difficult to tell the difference between normal, age-related decline and something more serious. According to a recent article quoting a psychiatrist (and private practitioner in Massachusetts), there are several ways families can tell if an elderly relative is losing his or her independence.

— Making inaccurate assertions: Signs of dementia may include “psychotic ideation,” in which clearly untrue statements are made, such as “They’re adopting a baby” or “I was out dancing in the street last night.”

— Unopened mail: Watch for unpaid bills or other neglected household duties.

— Spoiled food: Food left unrefrigerated or kept around long after it’s “sell by” date can indicate mental instability.

— Poor nutrition: Pay attention to weight loss, loss of appetite or unwillingness to cook for themselves. Sometimes this can be exacerbated by medications.

– Scorched pans: These may indicate the inability to cook safely, and could pose a bigger fire hazard. Does the stove get left “on”?

— Mystery bruises: Unexplained injuries, bumps and bruises on arms/legs or head are likely to be signs of falling. Seniors may not remember these events.

— Car damage: Look for dents and scrapes that cannot be explained or recalled. Be sure to drive with your family member to determine whether or not he or she is safe behind the wheel.

– John D. Miller is the founder/owner of Home Care Partners, LLC, a Massachusetts business providing private duty, personalized in-home assistance and companion care services to those needing help in daily activities and household functions. He can be reached at: (781) 378-2164; email: ; or online at: