It goes without saying that those of us who see our aging parents' needs change want for them exactly what we would want for ourselves. Quite simply, we want them to have the right care at the right time in the right place. But wanting it and knowing what it means specifically for our moms or dads, understanding what our options are, and knowing where to find reliable information on each option isn't at all simple. Often, we don't even know what questions to ask, much less where to look for the answers.

For caregivers journeying on this unfamiliar road, the following map can help point the way and at least offer a basic overview of what's coming up around the next bend, and the next, and the next.

According to the National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care: It is difficult to predict how much or what type of care any one person might need.... Service and support needs vary from one person to the next and often change over time. Women need care for longer (on average 3.7 years) than do men (on average 2.2 years)."

As our loved ones' care needs change, the "right place" may need to change as well: "Most long-term care is actually provided at home—either in the home of the person receiving care or at a family member's home. There is also an increasing amount of long-term care available in the community through programs such as adult day service centers, which often supplement care at home or provide respite for family caregivers.

For people who cannot stay at home, but who do not need the level of care provided in a nursing home, there are a variety of residential care settings, such as assisted living, board and care homes, and Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs).

Nursing homes provide long-term care to people who need more extensive care, particularly those whose needs include nursing care or 24-hour supervision in addition to their personal care needs.

Hospice care is short-term, supportive care for the terminally ill (life expectancy of six months or less) that focuses on pain management, emotional, physical, and spiritual support for the patient and family. It can be provided at home, in a hospital, nursing home, or a hospice facility."

As family caregivers, the more we learn about these different service options for our loved ones, the more reasonable and realistic our decision-making can be. For more information about long-term care options, visit the National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care.