What is a Geriatric Care Manager?

As a Geriatric Care Manager,  I wanted to discuss a bit about what we do, and what this ”Geriatric Care Manager” handle means.

I love my work as a GCM. I find that the title however, while at times familiar to some people can be a strange mouthful for others. In answer to the question about what it means, there is quite a lot to say.

First of all, let’s break apart the 3 words..I am not a fan of the term “geriatric”, since it can sound strictly medical and I don’t know anyone who would want to identify as being geriatric. Essentially, the word has earned mostly a negative image. I prefer using the term “elder care manager”, but that is not name that was chosen for the certification for this field. The national organization I am certified through, formerly called the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, is now called Aging Life Care Association,   https://www.aginglifecare.org/ And the term “geriatric” does differentiate the population we work from people of other ages who may need care managing.

“Managing” could also fall into the realm of the impersonal, which is very far from the way we GCM’s normally work – we chose this occupation because it brings us in close to families and older people. But, often managing a complex situation is what is called for and as families who are supporting elders in transition know, this is a dynamic time with practical as well as emotionally demanding aspects. And often when I get a call from a family for my assistance, most of the time I see that they themselves are already being the care manager which I point out to them to help them recognize why they are feeling so overwhelmed..care managing one’s family member can become a full time job. This is a perfect time to call on a GCM so that the family helper can resume being a family member rather than the care manager.

And finally “caring”..the heart of the term. “Care”, as we know, can either refer to a state of mind..that we have concerns and personal interest in a person or possession, or it can refer to someone being in someone else’s charge or under their protection. Thirdly it could describe a type of serious attention or devotion to a task. Care managers fulfill the whole spectrum of the word “care”.

To make a further clarification, with the word “care”, as opposed to “case management”: my understanding is that it was changed some years ago to differentiate care management from medical case management in hospitals. In hospitals, a case could be followed in a more stream-lined and usually very brief way, whereas care managers tend to offer a broader range of services – even impromptu things like going to fetch a client’s personal item from home when the client had to go to the hospital, for instance.

A simple overview of what a Geriatric Care Manager might do is :

To initially meet with a family or individual who needs support particular to aging. It may be that a parent is developing some memory loss or that the family is considering moving an elder from home to a facility. Or, perhaps an older individual is alone and handling too many life details, needing a friendly ally who can join in and offer an array of support. There are care managers who do work strictly in hospitals with discharge planners, reading charts and then helping families navigate the medical system. And some care managers specialize only in helping families in which the parents live far away from the adult children..the care managers help with decisions and changes that need to be made. There is a range of what a geriatric care manager can offer, depending on where they concentrate their skills and what is called for in the particular situation. And I should add that most Care Managers have already developed foundational careers such as being Social Workers, nurses or other helping professions.

My work includes several areas: I work with individual elders, often spending lots of time talking with them, in a way that is therapeutic..we may talk about loneliness, dealing with fear of transition, grief, loss of confidence and other challenges that can heighten at this time of life. Sometimes we will go together to do errands or take care of certain business. Also I work with many families, setting up schedules, finding additional help – sometimes referring to a local home care agency and sometimes providing independent caregivers. I work with the family to galvanize their existing system so that everyone is pulling in the same direction. It’s so important to find ways to make this a very special time as a family.

I love the collaborative and creative process of working outside of a formula. Families each have a distinct style of relationships among themselves, how they work out financial resources for instance or make decisions about caregiving, and timing can vary greatly. And very often I simply consult a family or spouse, offer my sense of what might help and they take it from there. Also I have an ongoing spousal-caregiving support group which is very spirited and helpful for the caregivers there whose partners require serious, committed support. Finally I am also a referral system , with extensive knowledge of my city’s resources. I have a highly varied personal network of professionals including homecare agencies, elder law practices, fiduciaries, advocate services as well as practical things like a good place for a haircut. I have lived in Boulder for almost 30 years. And, I am listed on the ALCA national network for Geriatric Care Managers so occasionally I will get a call from far away from another GCM who has questions about my town for their client..or a referral ..and of course I can activate the network from my desk as well to find help in other areas of the country for families.

And last but not least, In addition to the practical side of GCM’ing, I feel that we come from the healing tradition. We ourselves are caregivers as well as being care managers. Most of us have had considerable experience taking care of many people in a variety of ways. Care managing brings us right into further caregiving, in this case of a family or of an elder alone. This is a deep level of work..and we learn profoundly about life from being engaged in this way. As all caregivers know, when we embrace other peoples’ challenges, there is potential for transformation, personally and with our clients. The benefits keep us going such as the natural learning for how to listen carefully without layering our interpretation onto the person or situation – how to see what is being presented clearly. Care managing is a very creative process. And it is being documented increasingly that the potency of relationship and conversation is greatly beneficial and often overlooked, underestimated. Geriatric care managers tend to be people who really appreciate relationship and bring it fully into their life’s work.

Here is an article which I find relevant and succinct which can add more detail about the work of a GCM: http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/06/why-hire-a-geriatric-care-manager/?_r=0