Caring for my aging parents long distance wasn’t even a consideration at that time.
As the years passed, my dad developed Parkinson’s and my mom became his full-time caregiver. Had I lived close by, I would have been there for doctor visits and to help with meals and my dad’s care.
It wasn’t that they needed an in-home caregiver as much as they needed someone to guide them through the maze of decisions they were making as my dad’s condition progressed and my mom’s ability to care for him declined.
I was fortunate enough to know about a hidden gem of a resource—a geriatric care manager (GCM). I often describe them as “life arrangers for the elderly.” Generally speaking, they are nurses or social workers who have dedicated their practices to helping families caring for older adults.
Four years ago I attended the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers in Boston. The conference was eye-opening.
Some of the topics were “Elder Mediation: Solving Disputes Involving Elders and Their Families,” “The Invisible Lives of Men as Caregivers” and “Ensuring Appropriate End-of-Life Care.”
Who better to help me care long distance for my parents than an expert? When a visit home had me concerned for the health and safety of both my parents, I sought out a GCM.
My first stop was the website of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers,www.caremanager.org, which offers a “Find a Care Manager” tool. By entering the ZIP code of your elderly loved one, you are presented with a list of local care managers who are members of the association.
Scrolling down the list, I could see that some GCMs were affiliated with home-care agencies, others were part of a group of GCMs and some were solo practitioners. Some were nurses and some were social workers. Some were officers of their local chapter.
I often say I happened upon a trifecta of geriatric care managers. Fifteen miles from my parents’ house, I found a GCM named Judy who was a nurse and a social worker and was employed by a very forward-thinking law firm.
The firm recognized that many of their older clients or families of older clients were frequently searching for help caring for an aging loved one.
On my next visit home and with my parents’ permission, I called Judy, who explained that she begins each case with an inhome assessment—a $250 fee (fees vary)—and then worked on an hourly charge of $125 (charges vary).
My parents and I had two goals for the visit—to help us select a home-care agency that could be trusted in times when my mom needed to be away from my dad and to see if there were local services for people with Parkinson’s that my parents could use.
Judy not only answered our questions but offered other recommendations as well.
She suggested we take up some of the throw rugs in their home to prevent falls, install handrails in the hallway and install a handheld shower attachment to make it easier to bathe my father.
She suggested we apply for a free hospital bed through Medicare. She gave us the name of a reliable low-cost personal emergency system and gave my parents a File of Life with medical information cards to fill out and leave on the refrigerator door.
Because Judy worked for a law firm, she was aware that a recent change in Massachusetts law made many living wills written years ago invalid.
Indeed, my parents needed an updated advance healthcare directive.
Until my parents moved last year to be closer to family, Judy visited quarterly to reassess my parents’ needs. It was comforting to know she was just a phone call away. She gave my parents and me an education and peace of mind.