You only get old once, so unless you’ve helped someone else go through the process you’re unlikely to know the ropes as it pertains to available elder services, both government-provided and privately-provided, including the complex world of housing options. This stuff is complicated, and the landscape is new to you. No one can know it all.
The professional who does know it all —or knows most of the geriatric landscape and is an expert at navigating it is called a geriatric care manager.
What Is a Geriatric Care Manager?
A geriatric care manager — usually a nurse, social worker, or someone with a professional background in elder care, is a sort of “professional relative” who can help you and your family to identify needs and find ways to meet those needs. These professionals can help you find resources to make appropriate life transitions, and to make your daily life easier. They will work with you to form plans and find the services you can benefit from.
Geriatric care managers can be especially helpful when family members live far apart. They can check in with you from time to time to make sure your needs haven’t changed. Geriatric care managers can:
- Understand the options available to you in all areas of concern
- Coordinate medical services
- Evaluate other living arrangements
- Broach and discuss difficult topics and complex issues
- Make home visits and suggest needed services
- Help you navigate “the system” — medical, housing, care, etc.
- Address emotional concerns
- Help you make short- and long-term plans
- Evaluate in-home care needs
- Select care personnel
- Provide caregiver stress relief
- Be the local eyes, ears, and advocate for adult children concerned about a distant parent
Most insurance plans don’t cover the fees of a geriatric care manager, and Medicare does not pay for this service, so you’ll probably have to pay for it out-of-pocket. Most geriatric care managers charge by the hour. You may be able to hire a care manager for just a one-time assessment, or you may want to have them involved over the long term. Often they can save you money because they understand the range of options so much better than you are likely to.
Choosing a Geriatric Care Manager
Almost anyone can hang out a shingle as a geriatric care manager, and lots of people do. They go by any number of names, such as: patient advocates, senior advisors, senior navigators, elder advocates, and of course geriatric care managers (we use the term geriatric care manager as the generic term). A geriatric care manager may be a sole practitioner or they may be part of a larger organization. In either case they can choose to affiliate themselves with a national professional certifying organization or not.
There can certainly be excellent sole-practitioners with no national affiliation — and we have had first-hand experience with one. The only way to find such people is by word of mouth…which can be difficult for someone who lives far away from the elder they are concerned about. For many people someone certified by a respected national professional organization will be an easier and more certain way to go.
Pretty much the gold standard in geriatric care manager professional associations is the Aging Life Care Association (formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers). We’ll use them here as examples of what you can expect from top-tier professionals.
The areas Aging Life Care Managers provide services in include:
- Health and Disability: Interacting with the health care system on their clients’ behalf.
- Financial: Reviewing or overseeing bill paying, providing information on Federal, state and local entitlements, and helping with insurance concerns, claims, and applications.
- Housing: Help with evaluating appropriate levels of housing, and providing knowledge about the local options.
- Families: Helping families adjust, cope and problem-solve around long-distance and in-home caregiving by addressing care concerns, internal conflicts and differences of opinion about long-term care.
- Local Resources: Knowing the resources in their communities and how those services are accessed.
- Advocacy: Advocating for clients and their families with health care and other providers.
- Legal: Referring clients to appropriate legal experts.
- Crisis Intervention: Helping clients to navigate through emergency departments and hospitalizations, rehabilitation stays, and ensuring that adequate care is available. For families that live at a distance, this can be a much-needed 24/7 emergency contact.
- Overall planning: A care plan tailored for each individual’s circumstances.
Geriatric Care Manager vs. Case Manager
Most communities have an Area Agency on Aging and Disability (AAAD) that is the portal to government services and can provide referrals to local non-government resources. A logical question is: “What’s the difference between an AAAD case manager (whose services are free) and a geriatric care manager?”
The first answer is that the geriatric care manager can provide a much wider spectrum of services, as outlined above, although a geriatric care manager will certainly refer clients to and work with a client’s AAAD as necessary. A geriatric care manager will have a caseload of maybe 15-30 clients, while an AAAD case manager will often have up to 100 clients. A geriatric care manager can accompany you to appointments and advocate for you there, while an AAAD case manager can’t. The geriatric care manager and AAAD case manager are two complimentary components of your geriatric care team; if you use both, the geriatric care manager will coordinate the activities of the AAAD case manager on your behalf.
Clearly, if you are trying to manage care for a distant parent, a geriatric care manager is a necessity. From first-hand experience we can tell you what a relief it is to finally know that someone competent and trustworthy is on-scene looking after your parent, and doing everything for them that you wish you both could and knew how to do.