The Role of Geriatric Care Managers in Helping Families Care for Aging Parents

Where can your turn when those conversations about senior care become difficult?  Who’s available to help you sort through all the options?  Is there a neutral third party who can listen objectively and make recommendations?  If you’re miles away who can make a personal visit to assess care needs?  The answer: geriatric care managers.

What are Geriatric Care Managers?Geriatric Care Manager and her client

Geriatric care managers are health and human services professionals with specialized knowledge of and experience in senior care.  Their backgrounds may include such fields as nursing, social work, gerontology and psychology.  They advocate for senior clients and support families; offering independent assessment of the situation and arranging for and coordinating appropriate services.  More often than not, family members struggle with emotions during this time; few are prepared for how these situations will affect them personally.  Geriatric care managers help families understand not only the situation and options, but also the feelings involved.

What Do Geriatric Care Managers Do?

They facilitate the dialogue among family members about what can be done to ensure the client can live as independently and safely as possible.  To that end, geriatric care managers use specialized assessment tools, research all the options, make recommendations and assist with implementing a plan of care.  They connect families to a variety of service and housing options including but not limited to home health care, chore services, visiting nurses, assisted living communities or nursing homes.  In addition they link families to other service providers such as elder law specialists and senior move managers.

What is a Geriatric Assessment?

The assessment is a comprehensive evaluation and serves as the foundation for a plan of care.  The assessment tool includes questions about the client’s physical, mental and psycho-social health; ability to live independently; self-care; living environment; social network and support services.  The geriatric care manager may work independently or as part of a team which might include physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists and dieticians. The plan of care typically includes specific recommendations to address the current problems, strategies to monitor the client’s status and options for future or anticipated problems.

When Are Geriatric Care Managers Needed?

A good guideline is “any life changing health problem” for which all parties would benefit from professional support and counsel.  Life changes come in all sizes and shapes.  How do you access the services needed to help your mother remain safely and independently at home as she ages?  What are the right care options for your ailing father after the sudden death of your mother who was the primary care giver?   Typically life changes catch us unprepared. Geriatric care managers can help whether you are planning for the future or responding to an immediate crisis.

Where Can I Find A Geriatric Care Manager?

Reaching out to physicians and local hospitals is a great place to start.  You’ll also find the Aging Life Care Association web site helpful. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging is another excellent resource to find agencies in your local area - click on “find your local area agency on aging.”

Hiring a Geriatric Care Manager

The U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging has important questions to ask before hiring a geriatric care management individual or organization.

  • Are you a member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers?
  • How long have you been providing care management services?
  • Are you available for emergencies?
  • Are you available nights and weekends in case of emergencies?
  • Does your company also provide home care services?
  • How will you communicate information to me?
  • What are your fees?
  • Will you provide fees in writing prior to starting services?
  • Can you provide references?

Geriatric care managers may also be certified by the National Association of Social Workers, the National Academy of Certified Care Managers or the Commission for Care Managers.

If you live long distance from your loved one you’ll find the National Institute on Aging, publication So Far Away: Twenty Questions for Long-Distance Care Givers valuable.

What’s the Cost?

Costs vary by region of the country and care management organization or individual.  There may be one fee for the assessment and then hourly charges thereafter.  Initial assessments may be covered by Medicare and some private insurance companies depending on the particular circumstances.  Check with your private insurance company for details.  Some low-cost options are available through local community agencies, senior service organizations or other non-profit agencies.  Your local Area Agency on Aging can help www.n4a.org.

Written by senior care expert Peg Witham

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