Do I need a professional geriatric care manager?
Len: Last month in Age Smart, Cliff addressed what a geriatrician does and how this kind of medical specialist might be helpful to you.
This month I consider when and why you might want to take advantage of the services of a professional geriatric care manager.
Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, is known for saying there are only four kinds of people in this world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers. If you need a caregiver, a geriatric care manager may be just who can make sure your needs (and those of other family members) are being met and ensure you get connected to the right kinds of services that can be of greatest benefit to you. Given the confusing array of community health and social services available to older adults and their relatives who are facing challenges, and the fact that most of us are quite uninformed about where to turn for help, a geriatric care manager can turn out to be extremely helpful. Our inclination not to plan ahead in terms of preparing for our old age and that of our loved ones also means expert guidance can prove to be a godsend especially in times of crisis.
A geriatric care manager is usually a social worker with a master’s degree or a nursing professional who has demonstrated special competencies in helping families who are caring for older relatives and, older adults themselves. They can also be trained as psychologists, counselors, and gerontologists. Geriatric care managers are often affiliated with a professional care management association which can be important because they are then guided by a formal Pledge of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which, in principle, obligates them to act only in the best interests of the older adult being served.
Geriatric care managers have special training and experience in helping families find needed services, resources, and benefits in the community that can ease the burden of the aging experience both for older adults themselves and the relatives who may be caring for them. These professionals can also provide individual, marital, and family counseling services which can help resolve issues, disagreements, and arguments between an older adult and his or her spouse, partner or other relatives concerning how to best plan for the future, arrange for needed home care services, or set up alternative living arrangements. These health care professionals assist families and their older relatives in managing and getting to medical appointments, arranging for social activities, getting needed legal and financial services (e.g. living wills and Power of Attorney), making arrangements that will increase safety and security in the home, and maintaining lines of open communication between families and other professionals.
Care managers are usually paid by the hour for their services and focus on developing and enacting treatment and service plans that will address chronic needs (such as Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders) and disabilities and maximize an older person’s functional potential and quality of life.
Care managers need to be ambidextrous, ready at all times to deal with unanticipated obstacles and issues that are faced by vulnerable older adults and their caregiving relatives.
Oh, and by the way, these professionals will often coordinate what they are doing with the additional efforts of other health care professionals who may be serving the older adult (like a geriatrician). By working together there will be less likelihood of important information being lost or overlooked and services being duplicated.
Here are some basic questions suggested by the National Institute on Aging that you will want to ask when contracting with a professional geriatric care manager: 1) Are they a licensed geriatric care manager?; 2) Are they a member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM); 3) How much experience do they have?; 4) Are they available during emergencies, evenings, and weekends?; 5) What are their fees?; and 6) Do they have references?
There continues to be a paucity of geriatric care managers available in states like Maine, especially in our smallest towns and rural communities. This is not a good situation especially when we remember the special challenges that can face older adults and their families living in rural regions including inadequate housing, geographic isolation, a lack of transportation services, financial hardship, chronic physical and mental health problems, and relatives that live far away.
If they know their stuff, a good geriatric care manager in Maine will be especially sensitive to the culture, concerns, and needs of older rural persons. Good geriatric care managers spend less time behind an office desk and more time in the community traveling in their cars what can be considerable distances to reach families and individuals in need of assistance. One of the attractive features of working with a geriatric care manager is that you will receive a lot of personal, one-on-one attention and you need not travel necessarily to a centralized office far away from your home.
Want to know about geriatric care management or need to locate a geriatric care manager where you live? Go to: http://www.caremanager.org/
Dr. Len Kaye is Professor of Social Work and Director of the Center on Aging at the University of Maine.