Collaborating With an Elder Care Expert: Putting a Geriatric Care Manager on Your Team

by Jerrold Bartholomew

Caring for a senior gets complicated quickly. Even assuming that an ideal care regiment can be identified, financing that care, locating resources and working out the logistics of transportation, insurance and personalities can be more than a full time job. For these reasons, it is helpful to turn to a geriatric care manager. Geriatric care managers specialize full-time in the evaluation of seniors’ medical needs and the navigation of the healthcare system, and can even often provide “insider” knowledge of the options available. While a geriatric care manager’s services are generally not covered by insurance, they can certainly earn their keep by saving time that would otherwise be spent locating and evaluating resources. For busy baby-boomers with children and careers, money invested in a geriatric care manager can pay dividends in both time and peace of mind, while often, most importantly, securing better quality care for the aging loved one.

A recent New York Times article (“When Elder Care Problems Escalate, You Can Hire an Expert”) highlights several other ways a geriatric care manager can be helpful. For instance, being a trained, third party professional has its own value: “My mom doesn’t listen to us, but she listens to Audrey, [our geriatric care manager].” If the geriatric care manager can cut through the often complex emotional subtext of a family care-giving situation, she can provide tremendous value and peace of mind to families with acute elder care needs.  Indeed, in my own practice, I have often seen relationships deteriorate as family members second-guess each other and argue about care options.  Frequently it helps very much to have an objective third-party opinion that is both knowledgeable and outside of the family circle (the members of whom often stand to benefit from various courses of action).  As the Times suggests:

That is another great reason to use a care manager: they can play the bad cop, persuading the older person to stop driving or insisting that an aide move in, so you don’t have to.

That person can also be the voice of reason when a family is not seeing eye to eye. Reesa Tansey and her siblings agreed that their mother, Ruth Tansey Goldberg, should age at her home in Los Angeles. But their mother’s husband — their stepfather — did not think that was a good option for him or for her.

Mrs. Goldberg, 85, was suffering from Alzheimer’s, but her husband, 84, was going to work each day and still able to golf with his friends.

Bunni Dybnis, a care manager based in Los Angeles, helped the children navigate the complicated terrain. At first, Ms. Dybnis arranged for 24-hour home care for Mrs. Goldberg. When Mr. Goldberg concluded that his wife would be better off living elsewhere with more stimulation, Ms. Dybnis helped the family find a reliable and intimate residential home for Mrs. Goldberg to move to.

“This wasn’t our first choice,” Ms. Tansey, who lives in Berkeley, said. “But Bunni helped make it all work out. We never felt like we were drowning.”

A geriatric manager can swoop in, figure out what needs fixing and move on to the next case. Or the manager can provide continuing support for situations that cannot be resolved quickly. Because care managers charge by the hour — typically $50 to $200 — what you pay will be based on how long you choose to keep them on the case.

Ultimately, while the family is still where the buck stops and where that very important love and commitment exist for the elder family member, an elder care team that includes a geriatric care manager as well as a physician and elder law attorney, make navigating the transitions that come so quickly in the later years a manageable – and often an even joyful – task.

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