Many families feel overwhelmed when an aging loved one needs care. Whether it’s help managing their health, household, finances, or other areas of their lives, families don’t always have the time or knowledge to research resources and make the appropriate decisions. Who can help manage such a wide variety of needs?
An aging life care professional, also referred to as a geriatric care manager, can help their clients and families understand, access, manage, and navigate the often complex world of aging and elder care services. They act as guides and advocates, addressing a broad range of issues including the costs, quality, and availability of resources in their communities. They are usually educated and experienced in any of several fields related to aging including, nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology. To some, they are so much more than just experts in aging; they become like family members.
How do you know if you need an aging life care professional?
Helping an aging loved one continue to live safely and comfortably at home can be an overwhelming responsibility. It's hard to go it alone. If you're not sure if you need the help of an aging life care professional, ask yourself these questions:
- Are the complex medical, financial, or psychological problems you are observing beyond your ability or desire to address?
- Do you live at a distance and can't be present on a regular or even crisis basis?
- Do you have the knowledge to navigate the landscape and myriad of services (and costs) available to the elderly?
- Would you like to find someone who can help your loved one with personal care and household tasks to help them continue to live at home as independently as possible, for as long as possible?
- Do you feel you're too close or too emotionally involved to know when keeping your loved one at home is no longer the right option? Would having someone with elder care experience help you make that decision?
What services do they provide?
Aging life care professionals can help in a variety of ways by guiding decisions and managing care services. They will always start with an in-person (whenever possible) assessment that covers all spheres of that individual’s life; eg, medical, physical, nutritional, financial, social, religious, and support concerns. From this assessment, a short- and often, long-term plan is developed and communicated (either in writing or verbally). Care plans can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Health and disability. They can help determine types of services needed; attend doctor appointments and facilitate communication between doctor, client, and family; and assist in engaging and monitoring those services.
- Financial. Services may include overseeing bill paying; consulting with a client’s accountant or Power of Attorney; and completing and reviewing insurance claims and applications.
- Residential Care. When families and clients need help evaluating long-term care options, including whether they can continue to live safely at home with private duty home care, they can help arrange and coordinate those services. Most aging professionals have extensive knowledge of assisted living communities, rehab and nursing home facilities, and specialized dementia care services. They should also be able to advise on costs and quality of care when evaluating options.
- Advocacy. Aging life care professionals are strong and effective advocates for clients and their families, promoting the client’s wishes with health care and other providers.
- Legal. They often can refer clients to a network of legal experts, like elder law attorneys, estate planners, and Powers of Attorney, and facilitate the process.
- Crisis intervention. Most of these professionals offer crisis intervention, helping clients navigate through emergency departments, hospitalizations, and rehabilitation stays.
Caring from a distance? An aging life care professional can be there when you can't.
Aging life care professionals can be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for relatives who live at a distance. It is not uncommon for family members to live far from their aging loved ones, so a local advocate can help assess and monitor the situation, keeping an ongoing communication with the family. Having a local professional can also reduce the number of "false alarm" emergency visits by assessing the situation and determining if it requires crisis intervention.
Some families choose to have only an assessment by an aging life care professional and a map of options to consider and implement. Others may benefit from weekly check-in visits or availability in case of an emergency.
How much does an aging life care professional cost? Is it worth it?
An aging life care professional's services are generally not covered by any insurance, so when money is a consideration - as it is for most people - hiring a professional can, understandably, be a big decision. While some long-term care insurance policies do have a geriatric care management fee to oversee a policyholder's care at home, most do not.
As far as costs, the assessment may be billed as a standard fee or on an hourly basis. Most charge by the hour for follow-up visits, in quarter-hour increments. Phone calls and emails are typically charged, as well. It's not uncommon for professional's fee to be $150 an hour, and sometimes substantially more for the initial assessment.
However, it's important to consider that an experienced and trusted aging life care professional can save you dozens (or more!) hours of researching options on your own, and, potentially, thousands of dollars by helping you avoid making the wrong decision - a VERY costly mistake!
10 key questions to ask when choosing an aging life care professional
There are many things to consider when choosing the right professional to help you and your family. Here are ten important questions to ask:
What are the primary services provided by your agency/business?
What are your professional credentials? (Are you licensed?)
How long have you been providing aging life care or care management services?
Are you available for emergencies?
How do you communicate information?
What are your fees? (These should be provided to the consumer/responsible party in writing prior to services starting.)
Can you provide references?
How many people work with you? Who covers when/if you are away?
How do you vet and select your referral sources?
Are you able to connect me with other community resources I need?
Be sure to thoroughly evaluate all of the aging life care specialists you consider. You want to make sure that the one you choose has the qualifications important to you and your family for a successful relationship.