Dobner, who declined his daughter and son-in-law’s offers to move into their home with them after he suffered a stroke, said he enjoys “visiting and spending time with people my own age and activities like Bingo” at the nursing home that he wouldn’t necessarily have access to in a home setting. Still, he said, he wishes his family could come to visit more often. And the Vickerys said they wish they could afford for him to live in a local facility.

It’s impossible for caregivers or their aging parents to predict what challenges lie ahead for them. “You don’t know how long the caregiving will last, and that’s scary,” said Duncanson. But, she said, caregivers can always trust God to help them through whatever comes their way. Prayer, Duncanson said, opens the door to much-needed wisdom when caregivers and their parents face a challenge together.

The key to successful planning is working with your aging parents and siblings to make decisions together as a family as much as possible, said Rita Schumacher, director of the Northern Virginia Long-term Care Ombudsman Program. “Oftentimes, for an older person, the fear is of the unknown,” she said. “If a caregiver involves the older person in the decision-making process, that helps.”

Planning wisely will help caregivers “continue to provide care to family and friends without sacrificing their health, financial security, and quality of life in the process,” the survey stated.  “We need to prepare for the future.  This includes encouraging family members to plan ahead and discuss their changing needs as they age …” said the survey’s conclusions. 

Work with your aging parents (and an attorney, if possible) to create documents that clearly outline your parents’ wishes for their future care.  Do it now, while your parents are still mentally capable and physically able to communicate.  If you can’t afford an attorney, you can use legal forms available for free on the Internet or through books at your local library, and discuss the forms with your pastor or a social worker.

Here are some legal documents that can help you: 

Power of attorney: This document gives a person (the principal) an opportunity to authorize an agent (usually a trusted family member or friend) to make legal decisions when he or she is no longer competent. There is no standard power of attorney; thus, each one must be geared toward an individual’s situation. It is important for the caregiver to be very familiar with the terms of power of attorney because they spell out what authority the caregiver does and does not have. The agent should make multiple copies of the document and give one to each company with which the principal does business.

Health care proxy: This document appoints an agent to make all decisions regarding health care, including choices regarding health care providers, medical treatment, and, in the later stages of the disease, end-of-life decisions. This means that the agent may authorize or refuse any medical treatment for the principal. This power only goes into effect once the principal is unable to make decisions for himself and is activated by the principal’s attending physician.

Living will: A living will allows the person to state – in advance – what kind of medical care he or she desires to receive and what life-support procedures he or she would like to withhold. This document is used if a person becomes terminally ill and unable to make his or her wishes known or if he becomes permanently unconscious.

Living trust: This document enables a person (called a grantor or trustor) to create a trust and appoint a trustee to carefully invest and manage trust assets once the grantor is no longer able to manage finances. A person can appoint another individual or a financial institution to be the trustee.