While visiting elderly relatives over the holidays, be on the lookout for some tell-tale signs of declining health, said a Baylor College of Medicine geriatric expert.

These signs encompass all aspects of health – physical, mental and even fiscal, said Dr. Robert Roush, director of the Texas Consortium Geriatrics Education Center at Baylor’s Huffington Center on Aging.

“Fiscal health is just as important as physical health,” he said.

The No. 1 physical change to look for in aging people is frailty. He noted that frailty is the precursor for almost everything that can go wrong as people age.

Frailty is defined as the presence of at least three of the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Self-reported exhaustion
  • Gait (slower walking speed)
  • Low physical activity

Incorporating resistance weight training and any other type of physical activity into daily routines is a way to avoid frailty.

“It’s important to remember everyone ages differently,” Roush said. “We shouldn’t define age by years but rather by functional age.”

Other health changes such as eyesight decline, hair color changes and hearing loss are normal and usually do not indicate serious health decline.

Roush said a decline in self-care, such as a change in appearance and attitude and poor hygiene, can be a sign that health, both physical and mental, is deteriorating.

As health declines, individuals may not be able to make sound financial decisions and, because of this, aging adults in America are targets for financial scams.

“Elderly adults are always targets for investment fraud and financial exploitation, but during the holidays these scams are usually in full swing,” said Roush, also associate professor of geriatrics at Baylor.

If it is out of the ordinary to find any of the following items at a relative’s home, they may be a victim of financial exploitation.

  • Excess lottery tickets
  • Magazine subscriptions for giveaways
  • Bus tickets to cities with casinos

Additionally, if relatives are not sure how much money they have or what their financial investor is doing with their money, they could be vulnerable to investment fraud.

In some cases, Roush said, having a new power of attorney or will drawn up without informing close, immediate family is a sign that someone could be a victim of financial exploitation.

“This issue is just as important as physical health because financial health impacts overall health,” he added. “Financial loss impacts available food, medication and other health services.”