Start having conversations with your parents about how they'd like to spend their future. Do they want to grow old in place, or would they consider moving closer to you? How will they get around once they stop driving? Check out their health insurance and what they're entitled to from the government (Social Security and Medicare or Medicaid) so you have an idea of how they'll be covered.
A financial planner who specializes in the elderly can help you figure out if supplementary health or long-term care insurance makes sense and whether your parents—or you and your siblings—can afford it.
Once you know your parents' wishes, get them on paper. They need: a will; a living will, which clarifies their desires for medical care; and a durable power of attorney so someone they trust can handle their business transactions if they become incapacitated.
You can find a lawyer at the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, online at naela.org.
Most places offer services for the elderly, such as home-delivered meals, adult day care, and visiting nurses.
Check out the local senior center—or eldercare.gov—for nearby offerings. Also, for $75 to $150 an hour, a private geriatric care manager will assess your parents' needs and coordinate their care. Find one at caremanager.org.
"Providing chairs with side arms, grab bars for the bathroom, shower chairs or transfer benches for the bath, and bed handles can all keep a parent independent longer," says Rosemary Bakker, a research associate in gerontologic design in medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Other arrangements to explore include retirement communities, assisted living and "co-housing," where friends reside together and share services.
Caring for an aging parent can be exhausting, and it often stirs up old feelings such as guilt and resentment, says Roberta Satow, PhD, author of Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even If They Didn't Take Care of You.
By opening yourself to change, however, you might be able to grow emotionally and even become closer to your parents. The first step is to try not to get overwhelmed. Magazines like Today's Caregiver, Vantage and Caring Today provide strategies for coping. A support group, pastor or therapist can also make a huge difference.