As kids grow up, parents age. When adult children help elders cope with the challenges of advancing years, the family balance of power gradually shifts. Parents who are used to making decisions and providing care may resist asking for or receiving help, especially from their children. It is a difficult transition, requiring substantial emotional, financial and logistical adjustments from everyone involved.

Are there ways to ease potential worries and pitfalls when families confront this inevitable process? Key elements to a successful elder care strategy include thinking ahead, communicating openly about goals and concerns, and planning early for eventual needs. In short, families should be doing as much as they can, as far in advance as possible, while parents are healthy and functioning at full capacity, cognitively and physically.

Figuring out every detail ahead of time isn't realistic, because no one knows exactly what the future will bring. But beginning a family dialogue before a crisis arises gives everybody a greater opportunity to address the weighty emotional issues involved, as well as more time to explore practical options.

Aging can feel scary. In a recent survey of "elder concerns" by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 46% of seniors expressed fears about declining health, 38% worried about not having enough money, 13% feared losing mental faculties, and 12% were anxious about growing dependent on others. Maintaining independence for as long as possible helps elders retain their sense of pride. But families must figure out how to ensure aging parents' physical safety while protecting their dignity. And adult children have their own concerns: the prospect of possibly becoming an elder's caregiver, like 44 million other Americans. It can be a daunting challenge, physically, emotionally and financially.

How best to prepare? There are a wealth of resources available to help families with the planning process - from simple online checklists to skilled professionals who perform detailed functional assessments. Should Dad still be driving? Are there better ways to make Mom less vulnerable to falls in her home? Could they both benefit from some extra help around the house or with personal care? The family benefits from asking question and investigating community resources and potential living options well in advance. When the time comes that your loved ones need extra support, knowing what your options are and where to go for help can greatly reduce stress.

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