According to an old superstition, trouble always comes in threes. That's just the beginning of what happened to Andrea Rotondo’s family.
“My mother was already suffering from dementia when my father was hospitalized for acute kidney failure,” says Rotondo, a senior editor at Sterling Publishing, a New York-based book publisher. “As he fought for his life in the hospital, my mother's mother passed away at the age of 100.”
Then the stress from these events triggered a fourth kind of trouble: It “pushed my mom's dementia into overdrive,” Rotondo recalls. “It was clear that my parents could no longer care for themselves or each other.”
That’s when she decided to bring in professional help — which proved to be a godsend. “Our geriatric care manager has made life so much easier for us,” Rotondo says.
If you’ve never heard the term “geriatric care manager,” you’re not alone. Although the profession has been around for decades, it has maintained a relatively low profile. But the trend toward “aging in place” — letting the elderly live at home rather than in a nursing home or assisted living facility — has increased the demand for care managers.
The Role of a Geriatric Care Manager
What’s a geriatric care manager? Here's the short answer: Geriatric care managers, or GCMs, assist families who are providing care to elderly family members. A geriatric care manager offers private case management, including care planning and coordination, as well as guidance and other resources.
Geriatric care managers typically have a background in nursing, social work, psychology or gerontology. They assess your parents’ health and safety at home and coordinate services. Their goal is to help the elderly maintain quality of life in their own homes.
Insurance usually doesn’t cover the cost of a geriatric care manager, and the service doesn’t come cheap. But many feel the cost — which runs the gamut from $50 to $200 per hour — is worth it.
“When adult children can call on a local geriatric care manager to assess a concern before they fly across the country and lose time away from work, they save money,” says Linda Fodrini-Johnson, executive director of Eldercare Services
, which has three offices in the San Francisco area, and a spokesperson for the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.
Where to Find a Geriatric Care Manager
If you’re looking for a geriatric care manager, a good starting point is National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers’ website
. Its “find a care manager” tool allows you to narrow the search by region or ZIP Code. Or you might check with a local attorney. “Most attorneys who do elder law or estate law know their local care managers,” Fodrini-Johnson says.
Look for the Right Match
To choose the ideal geriatric care manager for your family, begin by identifying your needs then look to the geriatric care manager's background. (For example, a geriatric care manager with expertise in social work might have more experience matching clients with community programs than one with a background in psychology.) Raise these issues when you interview a prospective geriatric care manager.
Shelley Webb, a registered nurse who works as a geriatric care manager in rural Idaho, recommends asking the candidates if they have any experience managing the care of their own loved ones. “I think that brings a different perspective — in a good way,” Webb says. “Having experience dealing with their own family gives insight into what happens within families in general.”
Look for Certification
Before you choose a geriatric care manager, make sure he or she is certified by a recognized professional body, like the National Academy of Certified Care Managers
. “Some people in the real estate business and some financial planners now call themselves geriatric care managers,” Webb says. “Also, some home care agencies refer to their intake people as care managers, when they’re not.”
The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers recognizes four kinds of certification, which are outlined in detail on its website: Certified Case Manager, Care Manager Certified, Certified Advanced Social Worker in Case Management and Certified Social Worker in Case Management. These certifications ensure that the person you’re hiring adheres to a professional code of conduct and has credentials as a care manager.
What to Expect From Your Geriatric Care Manager
In a contract with a geriatric care manager, you can specify the level of care management you desire. “Some families use GCMs for consultations, while other families want professional oversight in all levels of care,” Fodrini-Johnson says.
Regardless of the level you choose, the geriatric care manager will conduct a thorough initial assessment and produce a care plan designed to address your parent’s particular needs. After that, the care manager will give you status updates at mutually agreed-upon intervals.
In Rotondo’s case, the services of her geriatric care manager enable her to maintain a normal life, 500 miles from her parents. “After several months in the hospital and at a rehab facility, my father was ready to come home,” she says. “I’d already put 24-hour home health aides in place, but our family also needed someone who could be a liaison among the aides, visiting nurses, doctors and family members.
“We hired a geriatric care manager who is also a licensed nurse. She’s able to assess my father's physical condition as well as my mother’s mental state. … She attends all doctor appointments and lets me know what’s going on in regards to the health and well-being of my parents. The service isn't cheap, but the peace of mind it provides me with is priceless.”
By Elizabeth Hanes
Elizabeth Hanes is a registered nurse who writes regularly about health, wellness, nutrition and caregiving. She won a 2010 Online Journalism Award for "Dad Has Dementia," her 36-week journal about caring for her late father. She lives in New Mexico where she also writes about art, antiques and collecting.
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