Go through the kitchen, from fridge to cupboards to oven. Because people spend so much time in this room, you can learn a lot.

Look for:

  • Stale or expired foods. We all buy more than we need. Look for signs that food is not only old but that this is unnoticed—mold, sour milk that’s still used, or expiration dates well past due, for example.
  • Multiples of the same item. Ten bottles of ketchup? More cereal than can be eaten in a year? Multiples often reveal that the shopper can’t remember from one store trip to the next what’s in stock at home.
  • A freezer full of TV dinners. Your loved one may buy them for convenience sake, but frozen dinners tend not to make healthy diet. If there’s not much fresh food in the house (because it’s too hard to for the person to procure or cook), your loved one might be ready to have help with meal prep or delivery services.
  • Broken appliances. Check them all: microwave, coffeemaker, toaster, washer, and dryer—any device you know your loved one uses (or used to use) routinely.
  • Signs of fire. Are stove knobs charred? Pot bottoms singed badly (or thrown out)? Do any potholders have burned edges? Also look for a discharged fire extinguisher, smoke detectors that have been disassembled, or boxes of baking soda near the stove. Accidents happen; ask for the story behind what you see.
  • Increased use of takeout or simpler cooking. A change in physical or mental abilities might explain a downshift to simpler recipes or food choices.