Your parents: They cooked you dinner, they drove you to your friend’s house, they took care of you when you were sick.
Now they need help, and you want to return the favor. But you live an hour or more away. You could move closer, but that would mean leaving your job and uprooting your children. You could move them in with you, but that would mean disrupting their routine and taking them from their home. So what do you do?
Seven million adults in the United States care for their elderly parents from afar, according to the National Institute on Aging. But it is no easy task to coordinate doctor’s visits long-distance or evaluate nursing homes or analyze the safety of your parents’ home if — like 90 percent of older adults, according a recent AARP poll — they choose to age in place.
Many adults in this situation are choosing to use the services of a geriatric-care manager. You may have never heard of a GCM. While the profession is not new, the need for such a service has risen recently as Americans continue to live longer lives, and families are living farther away from each other.
A geriatric-care manager provides care oversight and coordination for an elderly adult who can no longer manage those issues on their own. GCMs generally have a social-work, gerontology or nursing background and specialize in working with elderly adults. Along with a good legal and financial advisor, a GCM can be a valuable member of the care team for an elderly adult in several ways.
Choosing a nursing home
First, the geriatric care manager, because of her or his contact with many of the long-term care facilities in your community, will generally have a pretty good idea of which ones provide the best care. Because of this experience, the GCM’s insight can be valuable in selecting the right facility for your parents. Outward appearances can be deceiving. Often, the facilities that “look the nicest” simply don’t provide the best care for their residents.
Additionally, elder-law attorneys, because they work with many clients involved in similar situations to your parents, know a lot about the quality of nursing homes in your area and can help you navigate the various benefit programs that may be available to your parents to help pay for their nursing home care.
Second, the GCM can be an invaluable advocate for her or his senior clients. Frequently, doctors who treat senior patients do not have specific training in geriatrics and don’t know things such as how different drugs may interact. A GCM with a nursing background often works directly with a client’s doctors to make sure that the care is appropriate and that nothing is overlooked, attending doctor’s appointments and communicating directly with medical staff. This service can be crucial in making sure that your parent or loved one receives the right kind of care.
Third, a GCM can act as your eyes and ears at the assisted-living facility or nursing home. The GCM can give you real insight into what quality of care your parent or loved one is receiving.
Last, the GCM can create a care plan for the family that identifies what issues the senior has and how those issues will be addressed in a systematic, detailed way. Having a detailed plan in place means that there is less chance of something being overlooked and ensuring that your loved one receives the best quality of care.
Geriatric-care managers help individuals and families cope with aging hurdles ranging from financial planning to housing logistics. Proactive planning with sound legal counsel, health-care coordination and financial planning prevents challenges from becoming crises.
For help finding a geriatric-care manager, go to www.caremanager.org.
Michael Smith and Richard Barid are co-founders of Savannah-based Smith Barid LLC, which specializes in elder law, estate planning and special-needs planning.