DEAR DOCTOR K: Taking care of my elderly father, with his complicated medical care, has become more than I can handle. A friend suggested I hire a geriatric care manager. How can this person help?
DEAR READER: Caring for an elderly parent takes a lot of time, energy and patience, and it may also cause financial strain. But caregiving also can be wonderfully rewarding. Even if you do find it rewarding and don’t want to stop playing a major role in caring for your parent, you might still feel overwhelmed. If so, a geriatric care manager may be able to help.
Geriatric care managers are jacks-of-all-trades. Their training may include nursing, social work, counseling or gerontology. An experienced manager can round up medical care and necessary services, keep medical personnel on the same page and cut through baffling red tape. He or she can also help navigate family dynamics.
Some of the tasks geriatric care managers routinely undertake are:
— Evaluating needs: Determining how independent your parent is in the activities of daily living, such as changing clothes, bathing, getting to the bathroom, making meals, and so forth;
— Connecting people to helpful services, senior housing and long-term care facilities;
— Bringing families together to discuss options supportively;
— Hiring and monitoring home-care personnel;
— Coordinating care between specialists, hospital and home-care staff, and family members;
— Recognizing and finding ways to circumvent financial, medical or legal problems.
Working with a geriatric care manager can be costly but extremely helpful. In the long run, sometimes such expertise can save money and time, as well as regrets.
Geriatric care managers usually charge by the hour. Rarely is the cost paid by long-term-care insurance; more commonly, the client or family pays. Be sure to get a written agreement outlining the scope of services offered and costs. This can also help you decide which tasks might be undertaken by family and friends to save money.
I’ve put a copy of a “Needs Questionnaire” on my website, AskDoctorK.com. Answering this questionnaire will help you identify areas of caregiving that are problematic for you. It asks about all areas of caregiving, from meal preparation and personal hygiene to safety and medical issues.
After you complete this form, you can take it to a geriatric care manager for discussion. He or she can help you put together a personalized plan for caregiving.
To locate a geriatric care manager in your area, contact the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (www.caremanager.org).
I am in awe of my friends and my patients who lead busy lives but still find the time and energy to help care for their parents. They sometimes complain, understandably, about just how hard it is. But, particularly when their parent is gone, they look back on it as one of the most rewarding things they have done. A geriatric care manager can help lighten the load, and improve the dynamic for you and your parent.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.