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.
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.”
As the population ages — the number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to nearly double to 95 million by 2060, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Population Research Bureau — 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, board president of the Aging Life Care Association, a professional organization for geriatric care managers. “What we’re encountering now are the adult children seeing their parents who declined so much.”
The association, formed in 1985 and based in Tucson, Arizona, has more than 2,000 care managers as members.
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, Wagner says.
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.
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.