by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA
Q: My sister has had multiple health problems in the last year. Neither of us ever married or had children, and we depend on each other for support. Can you explain in more detail what care managers do, and how they can help in a situation where there is no family support?
A: Today’s aging population has an increasing number of individuals who either did not have children or have children who live a fair distance away. Families are more spread out. With increased numbers of blended and step-families in the mix, things can get complicated when it comes to family support and facing increased health issues and the need for support as a person reaches retirement years.
Care management is a profession that emerged as the health care system became more specialized, people started living longer and individuals were seeking more consumer-directed support. A care manager is an individual who typically has a social service, mental health or medical background. The individual should have an education, experience and certificate in providing care management services. The care manager works directly for the family, typically in a private practice setting, but at times through a system or healthcare organization. You can access a national database of qualified Aging Life Care™ managers through the Aging Life Care Association at www.aginglifecare.org
Services are typically paid for by the individual, although some grant programs exist and some long-term care policies provide for a “care coordination” benefit. Even some health insurance companies are starting to recognize the benefit of care management for helping to reduce repeat emergency department visits and admissions.
The care manager can help you assess your specific situation, typically looking at core areas such as: support system, medical history, activities of daily living, mental health, financial planning, legal directives, spirituality, household environment and other quality of life issues to be considered in creating a realistic plan for you. Taking all of this information into account, recommendations can be made. If you choose to continue a relationship with the care manager, they can become an integral part of your support team. Some things they might help with include: coordinating and attending medical appointments; coordinating resources as you need them; helping to put safety measures in place at home; bill paying; identifying the appropriate level of care; assisting with placement if you choose to move; assisting with any hospitalizations/discharges, being your go-to person to call in a crisis and much more. In a sense, they become a surrogate daughter or son with an education and experience in navigating life as you age.
Care managers tend to be big advocates of creating a plan to stay in control of decisions that impact your life and how you age. If you are caring for your sister, a care manager can help you identify the decisions that need to be made and resources that can be put in place to give you both the support you need to feel secure and in control of the changes you are experiencing.
When choosing a person to play such an important role in your lives, make sure they are certified, carry professional liability insurance and have the knowledge and experience needed to become your ongoing advocate.
Being a caregiver is a big commitment. The care manager is there to help you be successful and carry the load when life feels overwhelming. Let them help you build a family of support services to help you and your sister age the way you choose.
Readers may send questions to Natt, an Aging Life CareTM Professional, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.