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Geriatric Care Managers Advocate for Older Adults — and Their Caregivers

Sometimes an overwhelmed family member needs a professional guide

spinner image  A health care worker attending to a senior citizen resident in a senior care living facility
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With changing times come changes in the way we care for our elders.

In the past, extended families often shared the job of tending to older loved ones. These days, families may live farther apart, and the responsibility for care can fall on one overwhelmed family member.

The good news is that geriatric care managers can help.

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These professionals, sometimes called aging life care managers, are usually licensed nurses or social workers trained in caring for older adults. They act as private advocates and guides for family members who want to ensure their loved one is in the best hands, and they generally serve clients and families whose incomes are too high to qualify for publicly financed services.

“Caring for a senior can often be an overwhelming process,” says Cathryn A. Devons, an assistant clinical professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Geriatric care managers seek to make the process easier by serving as an advocate or counselor — taking the pressure off of family members who often have other commitments, such as parenting and workplace responsibilities.”

By 2054, adults 65 and older are predicted to make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data. That’s up from the current 18 percent. As the population ages, the number of caregivers needing help will likely increase as well. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend, according to geriatric care managers, who report more families turning to them for assistance.

“Seniors were in their homes and not getting out and about, and their functioning really declined,” says Debra Feldman, who owns a care management company and served as board president of the Aging Life Care Association, a professional organization for geriatric care managers.

Find a geriatric care manager

Keep in mind that many people can refer to themselves as care managers without having the proper qualifications, so check carefully.

  • Aging Life Care Association expert search
  • Eldercare Locator support services (enter your location information to find the nearest Area Agency on Aging — they often have lists of local providers)

How geriatric care managers can help

Many care managers started out in nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy or social work, often with a focus on geriatrics, and decided to switch careers to meet clients’ needs for broader care services, says Julie Wagner, CEO of the Aging Life Care Association.

What they do now is a range of assessments and coordination of care. Initial assessments of clients and their living situations largely moved online when the pandemic struck, but that was far from ideal, Feldman says, and managers have mostly resumed in-person visits.

Establishing a human connection with care recipients and caregivers is a big part of what care managers do, she says. Plus, an in-person assessment can reveal details that aren’t always captured on a screen, such as rugs that might be tripping hazards.

Along with assessments, other care management services may include:

  • Evaluating, arranging for and monitoring hired caregivers such as home health aides.
  • Coordinating medical appointments and arranging transportation.
  • Identifying social services and programs that could help the care recipient.
  • Making referrals to financial, legal or medical professionals and suggesting ways to avert problems.
  • Explaining complex or difficult topics to care recipients and their families.
  • Creating short- and long-term care plans that could include assisted living or a rehab center.
  • Acting as a liaison to family members who may be hundreds of miles away.
  • Answering questions and addressing emotional concerns of caregivers and their loved ones.
  • Arranging for relief or respite care for stressed-out caregivers.

“The manager ensures that the senior’s personal and practical needs are met and can help with more mundane tasks, freeing up family members so that they can enjoy more quality, stress-free time with their loved one,” Devons says. “Very often, we see geriatric care managers become a much-valued part of the family.”

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Count on paying out of pocket

Geriatric care managers charge by the hour, according to the National Institute on Aging. Some care managers also charge for long-distance calls, mileage and travel time. Be sure to find out about these billing details and get them in writing before you agree to the services.

Neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for geriatric care management services. Long-term care insurance may cover some of the costs of care coordination, but most private insurance policies, including Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans, do not.

You may be able to get help from your workplace, says Wagner of the Aging Life Care Association. Some employee assistance programs cover some geriatric care management fees because the services a manager provides can help family caregivers stay focused on their paying jobs and miss less work time.

Nearly three-quarters of family caregivers are working full- or part-time, according to AARP. Caregivers who work full-time, particularly those who work late or overnight shifts, show high stress and negative emotions, according to a 2023 study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. 

Sarah Patterson, lead author of the study, says that a lack of flexibility and an inability to run errands or take their loved one to the doctor is likely the cause of those higher stress levels.

In contrast, keeping a part-time job gives caregivers an emotional boost, Patterson says, because time away from caregiving offers some respite.

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Check references and credentials

Many geriatric care managers started in health care or social work, and they often maintain certifications in their original field.

Three nonprofit organizations — the Commission for Case Manager Certification in Mount Laurel, New Jersey; the National Academy of Certified Care Managers in Tucson, Arizona; and the National Association of Social Workers in Washington, D.C. — offer certification programs. All require specialized degrees, experience and successful completion of an examination.

9 questions to ask before you hire

Be clear about your expectations. That starts with asking a prospective care-management provider the right questions.

1. Resources: What are your business's main services, and do they include in-home care?
2. Size: How many geriatric care managers do you have on staff?
3. Qualifications: What credentials and professional licenses do you and your managers have?
4. Longevity: How many years have you been providing care-management services?
5. Initial costs: What fee, if any, do you charge for a consultation?
6. Continuing costs: What are your ongoing fees, and may I get them in writing?
7. Communication: How will you keep in contact with us?
8. Flexibility: What happens if my family has an emergency — will you be available?
9. References: Who has used your services, and may I contact them?

Source: Aging Life Care Association

Editor’s note: This article was published Jan. 9, 2020. It has been updated with recent studies and statistics.

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