How Geriatric Care Managers Can Help Busy Caregivers

Geriatric care managers, or care coordinators, are a hot health care area. Researching and coordinating all of the care options for seniors is time consuming. Many services are locally administered, even if they are federally subsidized. Other services are totally dependent on where the senior lives. If the adult child of the senior or other primary caregiver lives at a distance from the care receiver, it can become nearly impossible to research and track all of the options and check up on the care receiver's needs.

For many adult children who work outside of the home in addition to their caregiving duties, even if they live in the same area as their elders, the time all of the research and coordination of the elders' care can be too large a drain. Many would rather use their precious time visiting with their parents, rather than juggling red-tape laden paperwork.

Geriatric Care Managers: A Relatively New Profession

The profession of geriatric care coordinator or manager is a profession that has evolved out of an obvious need. There are legions of harried caregivers, social workers and nurses have a front row view into what a caregiver's life is like. Some of these professionals came to believe that maybe they could make a profession out of helping these caregivers. These entrepreneurs hung out their shingles and a profession was born.

Geriatric Care Managers are not Uniformly Credentialed

Most geriatric care managers are social workers, nurses or others who have worked in the elder care field. Agencies such as in-home care, assisted living and nursing homes, generally have care coordinators for use within their agencies. We are looking, here, at people who coordinate care for an elder throughout the spectrum of agencies.

Credentials and regulations have yet to hit this industry, and in general, they do charge fairly steep fees. So, ask for references, and ask also what qualifies them to do what they do. If they just happen to "like seniors," well, that's nice but not enough. They don't have to be nurses or social workers, but they should have some experience behind them to show you that they know the ropes - preferably better than you do. The references should be from people who have been happy with their work. Ask for more than one reference and check them all. You can even call local agencies and see if they can give you a referral.

Geriatric Care Managers' Services Vary

Ask the geriatric care manager for a list of the services they provide. They are charging you for certain tasks they perform and you will want to know if their services fit your need. The Aging Life Care Association (formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers) site explains a care manager like this: "Geriatric Care Manager is a health and human services specialist who helps families who are caring for older relatives. The Geriatric Care Manager is trained and experienced in any of several fields related to care management, including, but not limited to nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology, with a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care."

The ALCA site does have a code of ethics for their members and they do provide a search for managers. This is not to say that all good geriatric care managers belong to this site - this is just one group and one way to search. Asking for credentials and references is necessary no matter how you find a manager.

The expense of hiring a care manager may put the service out of reach of many. That's a big drawback, as many folks who most need the service can't afford it. That isn't the care manager's fault as they must make a living just as most of us must. However, it is a service that I hope, one day, will be recognized as necessary enough to be covered by insurance.

Meanwhile, if the care manager is good, she/he will have enough knowledge to get your senior the care needed and give you some room to breathe. In some cases, geriatric care managers may "pay for themselves." If they get you on the right track to care for your elder, and if they are knowledgeable about financial aid for seniors, which they should be, it's possible that they may uncover some funding you wouldn't have found.

Still, if you go to your state's website and look under "aging services," you should find contact information and get some guidance to find aid that is available locally. Don't count on a geriatric care manager to save you money. But a good one could save your sanity.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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