Why your aging parent needs a geriatric care manager

April 26, 2011

At 95, Paul Greenberg’s mother lived alone and cared independently for herself in the Brighton, Massachusetts, home she shared with her husband who had passed away 20 years ago. But gradually over the next year, her son began to worry. He lived a couple hours away in Essex, Connecticut, and during frequent visits, he started to see signs of trouble. “There were two-week-old newspapers that she wouldn’t throw away,” says Greenberg.

His mother wasn’t ready to move into full-time assisted living but Greenberg knew she needed care and support that he couldn’t provide. On the advice of his cousin, Greenberg hired a geriatric care manager, Joan Harris from Your Elder Experts in suburban Boston.

Harris was exactly what Greenberg needed. “If you’ve never dealt with an elderly person before, you’re not sure what to do,” he says. Harris arranged for Meals-on-Wheels and visiting nurse appointments. Harris got Greenberg’s mom a hearing aide along with a lifeline she could wear in case of an emergency. Harris took her client to doctor’s appointments. She kept in close contact with Greenberg with regular emails and phone calls.

Though aging baby boomers may be a bit young for the services that geriatric care managers provide, there is a growing need for help as seniors increasingly live longer than ever before. Geriatric care managers often bridge the gap between ongoing independent living and more full-time care such as home health aides or assisted living.

But there is premium for this peace of mind. You need to pay for it out of your own pocket. Medicare or Medicaid does not pay for this service, and long-term care coverage can be spotty. Most agencies charge an hourly rate of between $60 to $300 per hour depending on the part of the country. Over the year Harris worked with his mom, Greenberg spent as much as $8,000 but, he says, “it was well worth it.”

Despite the expense, there are many scenarios when a geriatric care manager can be helpful.  Their role is essential when “there are a lot of decisions, the person is in the midst of a crisis or at a crossroads such as a hospitalization and it is unclear whether someone can go home,” says Karen Wasserman, director of Your Elder Experts.

There is also a significant emotional piece that takes place during these major life transitions.

“The care manager can take some of the brunt of the anger that can occur in a family when a decision has to be made,” says Maureen Beck, a nurse practitioner and co-medical director of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “They get to buffer some of the emotional stress as well as go in and unify a family when there is a long distance situation,” she says.

Wasserman notes that care managers may be unaffordable for many people. “But sometimes it is really just a one- or two-time deal where they can talk about their concerns and be educated about their options,” says Wasserman. “For a few hundred dollars, you are set in a direction,” she says. A care manager knows the options and can help you to make wise decisions.

Indeed, arranging care for an elderly parent or relative from a distance can be overwhelming. While there may be numerous resources, referral lines with free advice, it can often help to chat face to face with an educated listener who can provide a roadmap.

Whether you need ongoing care or just a consultation, there are few tips that can help streamline the hiring process.

  • How to find a care manager. Check out The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers and search under how to find a care manager. Or tap your own personal network and dig up a referral. You can also call your local Council on Aging. Try to find someone in the zip code nearest to the person who needs care, says Dr. Marion Somers, a gerontologist and author of Eldercare Made Easier. She has also developed two free apps: elder411.net, which takes questions about elder care management and elder911.net, for emergencies.
  • What to look for. A high degree of personal comfort and familiarity with the medical system is essential. You really want “someone who you feel is competent, an excellent communicator and advocate,” says Wasserman. Find out their credentials, certifications, philosophy, and what services they provide. How long have they been in the field and do they have experience with whatever ailment your relative suffers from? “I always ask or references from three people who they’ve serviced in the last year,” says Somers. Since care managers charge for the hour you want to make sure you’re not paying for their learning curve.
  • What to expect. Your care manager is your eyes and ears to the situation with your elderly parent or relative. Make sure you set up a clear communication plan that addresses frequency of contact with the care manager and mode of communication. Also understand how the agency charges you for their time. Some agencies charge in 10-minute increments, bill a fraction of the total hourly rate for travel time, or charge a monthly retainer. Make sure you know what you’re paying for to control your costs.

Greenberg’s mother is now 98 years old. After about year of working with Harris, it became obvious that she needed more care. Harris arranged for the move to an assisted living facility 20 minutes away from her son. “Without her, my mother would have been at risk,” Greenberg says.


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Geriatric Care Managers are invaluable in the exact circumstances described in this post as well as many others. For those who may not be able to afford hiring a care manager, there are low cost and even no cost options to explore.


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Having a geriatric care manager with your loved one helps you a lot. Geriatric Care managers are trained and experienced in some fields related to care management. Attaining their maximum function potential and helping those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinsons or exhibiting symptoms of dementia.

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