If you’re a caregiver for a parent or senior loved one, or the person who needs care, you’ve learned that health issues can change abruptly, often tossing you and your family into unfamiliar territory that you must learn to navigate in a hurry.
With diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other medical conditions, you may even need to make decisions about placement in an assisted living or memory care community. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own, though. A geriatric care manager can guide you through the confusing and stressful journey of caregiving options.
“People might help an aging loved one go through that process only once or twice in a lifetime,” says Chandelle Martel, a Certified Geriatric Care Manager (GCM) and manager of the Geriatric Care Program at Bethesda Health Group in St. Louis, Missouri. “The path of aging is often confusing, with a lot of ways to go.”
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Also known as an aging life care professional, a care manager is typically a licensed nurse or social worker who helps your family identify a parent or senior loved one’s needs. The care professional specializes in geriatrics and may have a background in gerontology, nursing, physical therapy or another related field.
A care manager generally has in-depth knowledge of benefit programs and local in-home and healthcare services. The care professional can also help families make placement decisions for assisted living, independent living or skilled nursing communities.
Unlike most family caregivers, who learn as they go, a geriatric care manager has walked this difficult road many times.
“Having a guide can make the emotional part smoother for both the caregiver and the senior,” says Martel.
Most people hire financial advisors, realtors, tax preparers and other specialists to assist with complex jobs like buying or selling a home and retirement planning. However, many people have no idea that they can also hire a care professional with extensive knowledge of local eldercare resources to save time and prevent costly financial mistakes.
A Certified Geriatric Care Manager can help family caregivers put together long-term and short-term care plans, discuss complex issues and coordinate local healthcare services.
Other things a care professional can do include:
Geriatric care manager rates vary, from $50-300 an hour, depending on location and services needed. The initial evaluation is typically longer than subsequent consultations. After the assessment consultation, you may need the care professional’s expertise for only an hour or two here and there, such as if your loved one’s medical situation changes.
Care manager services aren’t covered by most health insurance plans. However, some long-term care insurance plans reimburse for this expense. Either way, hiring a care manager can be well worth the cost.
You’ll save time on online searches, phone calls and other tasks when you hire a reputable care manager. A care professional is also usually familiar with benefits programs such as Medicaid and Veteran’s Aid & Attendance benefits.
“They’re the ones who keep up on the latest trends and information,” says Martel. “You can save a lot of time when you hire a care manager as a consultant, even if it’s for just a little bit of time.”
Geriatric care managers can have differing levels of education and experience. For example, a member of the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA), a non-profit organization that offers education and professional development, must follow the ALCA’s standards of practice and code of ethics.
For this reason, the ALCA is a good place to find a reputable care professional in your city or region. You can perform a quick search for a geriatric care manager here on the ALCA website. Search results display membership categories, education and experience.
The ALCA recommends asking the following questions of care managers:
Geriatric care management isn’t a profession that comes with restrictions on education or experience. Care professionals aren’t required to be licensed. However, a Certified Geriatric Care Manager is educated in some type of human services field and trained to assess, coordinate and plan services for older adults and their families.
Don’t hire a care professional who receives commissions for referrals to medical or senior living services, since that could influence that person’s decisions, says Martel.
“A lot of people can put out a shingle and say they’re a care manager,” says Martel. “You really want a reputable care manager that has a background in gerontology, nursing, physical therapy or social work.”
Your local Area Agency on Aging is also a good resource for referrals.
A reputable care manager sees your loved one as the primary client. He or she makes decisions based on that person’s best interest, not the interests of family members, whose decisions can be based on their own needs. Family caregivers can also unwittingly place a loved one in the wrong level of care.
For example, if a daughter flies in for a few days and sees that her mom isn’t eating properly or her house is a mess, she may assume that skilled nursing is necessary when her mom would instead be fine receiving some in-home care or residing in an independent living community that provides meals.
Hiring a care manager can save money and time and prevent expensive or regrettable decisions. Even paying a few hundred dollars for a one-time assessment can be useful.
“If a family is willing to do the work, sometimes they just need a roadmap to get started,” says Martel.
For more information on choosing a care professional, visit ALCA’s “Selecting an Aging Life Care Professional.”
How did you and your family choose a care manager? What other tips do you have for selecting a care professional? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.