Care From A Distance

Many people face the challenge of caring for an aging parent who lives far away. Caregivers who feel they can no longer manage this task alone have the option of hiring a geriatric care manager.

Dr. Stacie Pinderhughes, a geriatrician and Medical Director of Inpatient Hospice at North General Hospital in New York City, talks about geriatric care managers and geriatricians, who can help in these situations with The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.

Nearly 7 million Americans are responsible for the care of an older relative or friend who lives an average of 300 miles away. This number is sure to skyrocket as the population continues to age.

Caring for an aging parent is stressful enough. But trying to help someone who lives far away only compounds the stress, the worry and the guilt. Caregivers, says Pinderhughes, need to know that they don't have to shoulder their burdens alone, because there is help available in the form of geriatric care managers (GCMs) and geriatricians.

Geriatricians are medical doctors, and often work as part of a team that includes social workers, counselors, nurses and more. The bonus to utilizing the care offered by geriatricians: it is covered by insurance. Pinderhughes believes geriatricians can perform many of the services offered by GCMs.

Geriatric care management is a relatively new field, but one that's growing quickly. The care managers are professionals, who are typically trained in nursing, social work, counseling or even gerontology. Their aim is to help caregivers coordinate all of the care an aging parent requires. Everyone is going to have different needs, but geriatric care managers can:

  • Assess needs and recommend appropriate services.

  • Screen or arrange for in-home health care.

  • Coordinate all medical care.

  • Provide transportation to doctor appointments, the grocery store and other places.

  • Address financial concerns.

  • Keep home clean and in good repair.

  • Make sure parent is in good mental health.

  • Manage any crisis.

    Any adult who is having difficulty with everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, eating or driving may be a candidate for a geriatric care manager.

    Geriatric care managers do not have to be licensed to advertise themselves as care managers, so it is essential that caregivers screen all candidates carefully. Here are questions that should be asked:

  • What are your credentials?

    Pinderhughes says the person you hire should be "care worker certified." You want to see proof of their expertise in counseling, social work and more. It also never hurts to ask for references.

  • What is your scope of practice?

    GCMs can provide a wide range of services. Some agencies/individuals specialize in certain areas. Some agencies only provide an initial assessment; they do not follow a patient. Others might only offer cleaning/driving/companionship services while others have great expertise in health care. Know what your parent needs and then find the GCM that meets these needs.

    Important Note: As mentioned, some care managers only provide an initial assessment such as "What is your parent struggling with?" or "What areas can you not handle sufficiently from far away? GCMs are not emotionally involved with your aging parent, they are able to see the big picture and offer an unbiased opinion on how your parent is managing alone. GCMs are well connected to the geriatric community; they can make recommendations on other places you can turn for help.

  • How will you communicate with me?

    This person is the caregiver's eyes and ears. Pinderhughes says establish a regular pattern of communication up front -- daily e-mails and weekly phone calls.

  • What is your availability?

    Caregivers should know whether they will be able to contact the GCM during off-hours, weekends or vacations with an emergency.

  • What are your fees?

    Pinderhughes says geriatric care managers are not for everyone, because of the cost. Rates of course vary depending on location and what you hire the care manager to do. Expect an upfront assessment fee of around $200, and then an hourly rate of anywhere from $50 to $150. Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance will not cover this cost, however, long-term care insurance may. Also, hiring a geriatric care manager will probably be less expensive than moving your parent into a nursing home or assisted living center.

    When looking for a geriatric care manager in your parent's area, Pinderhughes suggests checking out two web sites.

  • The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers: Caremanager.org

  • The Eldercare Locator of the federal Administration on Aging: Eldercare.gov or call 1-800-677-1116.
    • Rome Neal

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