Old age, it has been said, ain’t no place for sissies. As minds and bodies falter, the activities of daily living get harder and harder. Children of older parents know all too well that their aging parents need varying degrees of help. When that becomes too much for them to handle, one solution is to hire a geriatric care manager.
A geriatric care manager, according to the National Institute on Aging, is usually a licensed nurse or social worker who specializes in geriatrics. The NIA calls a GCM “a sort of ‘professional relative’ who can help you and your family to identify needs and find ways to meet your needs.”
More than a home aid, geriatric care managers are specially trained and licensed professionals who can help locate the resources needed to make daily life easier. A GCM can be especially useful for elders who don’t have family members nearby. The GCM can check in on the elder at regularly scheduled times to make sure his or her needs are being met.
What Do Geriatric Care Managers Do?
The NIA says that geriatric care managers can do any or all of the following:
— Consult about challenging topics and complex issues.
— Keep family members informed about their loved one.
— Visit the home and suggest needed services.
— Help with emotional issues.
— Construct both short- and long-term care plans.
— Evaluate in-home care needs.
— Find and hire care personnel.
— Facilitate medical services.
— Look into other living arrangements.
— Provide caregiver stress relief.
A GCM is extremely helpful for elderly patients with complicated health situations. “They speak the language and understand medical terms and the things that come with aging,” says Amie Clark, co-founder and senior editor of TheSeniorList.com. The GCM can go to the doctor with the patient and help the senior understand his or her care and also report that information back to the family, says Clark, a former long-term care ombudsman who specializes in geriatric care management and senior housing advisory.
They are also great for what Clark delicately calls “complicated family dynamics” — when the parents and children don’t talk nicely to one another, or the parent won’t listen to the children but may listen to an impartial outsider. “They are a professional buffer,” Clark says, a person who can help coordinate care among the warring parties.
When to Hire a Geriatric Care Manager
A GCM is not inexpensive, and most insurance plans, including Medicare, don’t cover these costs. So the family usually has to pay for this service. An initial evaluation can be from $400 to $800, says Linley Leone, a nurse practitioner at White Plains Hospital in New York who specializes in palliative medicine and geriatrics. GCMs then work hourly, at $100 to $200 an hour in the New York area, perhaps less in other areas. “The only downside is, they can cost a lot,” Leone says. “But in my mind, they are invaluable because the cost savings are way more than that.”
How do you know when it’s time to consider a GCM? “When the person starts to notice things are not adding up the way it used to,” says Nadia Benson, director of nursing services at The Nathaniel Witherell, a skilled nursing and short-term rehabilitation facility in Greenwich, Connecticut. For many, the first sign is when the bills aren’t getting paid. “They come home, and the lights are out, the water is shut down because they forgot to pay the bills,” says Benson, who has been a geriatric caregiver for more than 20 years and works with geriatric care managers though her facility.
Another sign a geriatric care manager may be needed is a lack of self-care and how the patient presents themselves to the world. “Are you clean? Are you brushing your teeth? Are your clothes clean? Those things just fall off. People who see you may notice you are unkempt,” Benson says. “I know a resident who had to look down and see, oh my gosh, I’m dirty, I’m not washing my clothes anymore. As you dig deeper you see a load of other things not getting done.”
Finding a Geriatric Care Manager
Several organizations are available to help find a care manager near your loved one’s home:
— Eldercare Locator.
— Aging Life Care Association.
The NIA also says that, in some cases, support groups for diseases related to aging, like Alzheimer’s disease, may be able to recommend geriatric care managers who have helped other families like yours. You can find those support groups by asking your loved one’s physicians or other caregivers. You can also ask friends and neighbors for recommendations if they have cared for elderly relatives or know someone who has.
When looking for a GCM, the NIA suggests you ask the candidate the following questions:
— Are you licensed as geriatric care manager?
— How long have you been working as a GCM?
— Are you available 24/7 in case of emergencies?
— Does your company provide home care services if needed?
— How will you stay in contact with me?
— What are your fees, and will you provide that information in writing?
— Do you have references?
Leone says personal rapport and communication between the family and the caregiver is also critical. “Make sure the patient and family member feel comfortable and can be completely open and honest. And is that person responsive? Have a pretty serious conversation. If you are not comfortable (working together), it won’t be effective,” she says.
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