Choosing a Geriatric Care Manager

Maria Miskovic, MSW, LCSW, C-ASWCM

This article is one in a series of monthly articles from West County Psychological Associates for seniors, their family members and caregivers. If you would like more information about our services, feel free to contact our office at (314) 275-8599.

Choosing a Care Manager is an important step in creating a team of professional advisors to assist you with caring for a loved one.  Care Managers come from varying backgrounds of care coordination.  Many are nurses, social workers, or gerontologists who specialize in elder care options in a specific city or county.  They are familiar with resources in the community and often have contacts and a network of people, programs and services to connect clients and families to create a better outcome and a higher quality of life for the client.  They aim to help get needed services in a way that does not waste anyone’s time or energy and does not create extra costs.

In the past, Care Managers were often referred to as Geriatric Care Managers, and are now increasingly referred to as Aging Life Care Professionals, Aging Life Care Managers, or Aging Life Care Experts.  Most professionals serving in these roles have an advanced degree, are licensed in a clinically related field, and/or have special certifications in care or case management.  Commonly, certified professionals bring at least 10-20 years of experience in the health care field and can often access services that are hard, if not impossible, for patients and family caregivers to connect with on their own.

Often, Care Managers work with clients who suffer from memory loss or dementia.  It is important to start this work as early as possible, even if one is not considered “elderly.”  There are many legal, financial, and care strategies that can greatly enhance someone’s life and make the family caregiving job easier, if advanced planning can be done early.  Care Managers generally can work with any adult who suffers from a disability, chronic illness, a new diagnosis, or a condition that limits their quality of life.

Unfortunately, the elder care field is full of individuals who may pose as a Care Manager,  Geriatric Care Manager, or Aging Life Care Professional, when in reality, they have little to no experience or clinical background.  It is important to ask questions to ensure you are connecting with qualified professionals and those who are certified in care management.  Some legitimate Care Managers offer specialty care in developmental disabilities, mental health support, and vocational support, so age ranges can vary based on the care manager’s background and training.

Guidance from the right Care Manager leads families to the decisions that promote quality care and best case scenario for their loved ones.  It is often a goal for the professional to balance the family relationships in a way where the caregivers can worry less, spend more quality time with their loved one, and feel less interruption in their already stressful lives.  The impact a caregiving role has on one’s productivity at their job, their attention to their own needs, and the ability to anticipate compounding stress factors can be limited during a time when all focus is on their loved one.

Care Managers have expertise in the following areas to help families and clients cope with the changes:

  • Assessment and monitoring
  • Planning and problem-solving
  • Education and advocacy
  • Family caregiver coaching

The right Care Manager will typically start with an assessment of the client’s needs.  They can also engage an intervention if a crisis has already occurred.  In this instance, the professional may try to stabilize the situation first and then come back to the assessment phase.   It is imperative to gather input from the client, and drive decision making based on the client’s perspective.  This will greatly impact the care plan and the approach of a professional who seeks to gain commitment from the client on their preferred course of care.  This may not always be the same as the family’s perspective, so it is essential to ascertain where the two plans can meet in the middle to move efforts forward.

Often the Care Manager has an advantage because they are an experienced professional addressing topics with the client that may have long been discussed by family.  Since the professional is a fresh face, and they have credentials to support their experience, the loved one may hear it differently and be less intimidated by the Care Manager than they may have been with family.  The Care Manager ideally creates a care plan that can be more easily carried out once the client and family are invested in a mutually agreeable outcome.

Through careful discussion and identification of community resources and programs that may fill the gaps in one’s care plan, the Care Manager can help family prioritize and facilitate implementing strategies that positively impact the loved one’s quality of life.  Meanwhile, the Care Manager will seek to educate formal and informal caregivers about the client’s preferences, any diagnosis specific information, and formulate a routine that offers maximum stabilization for the client.  Care Managers can often address areas of concern through a number of areas such as:

  • Housing – helping families evaluate and select appropriate level of housing or residential options
  • Home care services – determining types of services that are right for a client and assisting the family to engage and monitor those services
  • Medical management – attending doctor appointments, facilitating communication between doctor, client, and family, and if appropriate, monitoring client’s adherence to medical orders and instructions
  • Communication – keeping family members and professionals informed as to the well-being and changing needs of the client
  • Social activities – providing opportunity for client to engage in social, recreational, or cultural activities that enrich the quality of life
  • Legal – referring to or consulting with an elder law attorney; providing expert opinion for courts in determining level of care
  • Financial – may include reviewing or overseeing bill paying or consulting with accountant or client’s Power of Attorney
  • Entitlements – providing information on Federal and state entitlements; connecting families to local programs
  • Safety and security – monitoring the client at home; recommending technologies to add to security or safety; observing changes and potential risks of exploitation or abuse

 

Local, cost-effective resources are identified and engaged as needed.  The plan may be modified, in consultation with client and family, as circumstances change.

Services may focus solely on medical care or help your family member live at home and take part in community activities. For instance, a Care Manager might arrange for doctor visits, make referrals for home care, order medical supplies, get the health plan to approve payment for certain services, and communicate with others on your family member’s care team.  A Care Manager can do all of these tasks simultaneously and alleviate family from navigating an unfamiliar system of services.

For more information and a list of Care Managers and Aging Life Care Professionals, go to The Aging Life Care Association’s website at www.aginglifecare.org.  You can enter a zip code in any area to find local professionals, their background, and their level of practice (Advanced, Professional or Associate).  This website also offers information on the certification requirements and the practice of aging life care management.

Maria Miskovic, MSW, LCSW, C-ASWCM is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Missouri and Certified Advance Care Manager who owns a Care Management company called Care Choice Care Management, LLC.  Maria brings over 20 years of experience from her work in hospitals, home care, long term care, and law firms.  Maria can be reached at [email protected] or via the Care Choice website at www.carechoicestl.com

TOGETHER, CARING FOR THE ELDERLY.

Care Managers are familiar with resources in the community and often have contacts and a network of people, programs and services to connect clients and families to create a better outcome and a higher quality of life for the client.

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