DECATUR, Ga. — The holidays should be a joyful time of homecoming for families, but sometimes those visits also reveal that elderly parents are more frail or more forgetful than before. Discoveries like these may suggest that it's time to consult a geriatric-care manager.
When Nancy Gratzel's mother had a sudden change in her health requiring placement in a nursing home, Gratzel and her four siblings found themselves overwhelmed by the complex paperwork to qualify for Medicaid coverage. So they turned to Stephen Mielach, a geriatric-care manager based in their community of Toms River, N.J.
"It's a very cumbersome process because you have to find all your parents' documents and follow the trail of their money over the past five years," Gratzel said. "I decided that my time constraints didn't allow me to attend to that. I commute to work, have long work days, and all my siblings are married with children and very active."
Now Mielach also shares a power of attorney with Gratzel to assist her 88-year-old father, now living on his own, with bill-paying — a task that his wife used to perform exclusively. Her father appreciated the help and began to look forward to Mielach's visits, she said.
"To me, that was a good use of my parents' money which we were going to have to spend anyway (to meet Medicaid qualifications)," Gratzel said. "It afforded me the opportunity to direct my energy towards nicer things, helping my mom adjust to the facility and my dad to living at home alone. They had been married 67 years."
While most seniors and their families do not go so far as to assign power of attorney to geriatric-care managers, members of this growing profession can assist not just with money matters but also with navigating the often complicated decisions about what care is best for mom, dad or another relative.
Sometimes they help resolve a short-term challenge such as Mielach did initially for Gratzel's mother or they may provide assistance over a period of months or years. Sample tasks range from vetting home health aides to assessing whether a senior is able to remain at home or needs to relocate to an assisted-living community or nursing home. They may also accompany seniors to medical appointments and ensure they receive the prescribed follow-up such as lab tests and radiology scans or find contractors and coordinate bids for home repairs, for instance.
Or when a senior has no spouse or children, a geriatric-care manager may take on even more responsibilities to fill that void.
"For people who have family, I become the expert in the family," Mielach said. "For those with no family, I become family for hire."
The profession of geriatric-care manager has been around for decades but really has taken off in the past 10 years as the baby boomers increasingly became long-distance caretakers of elderly parents, said Joyce Gray, a Philadelphia-based certified geriatric-care manager who serves on the board of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, the industry's trade association. The group's membership has grown from 50 to 2,000 since its 1985 founding.
"There are a lot more older people who don't have someone locally to look after them," Gray said. "The baby boomers also are more used to paying for services and expecting high quality and results."
Another change Gray has noticed is that more people are contacting her proactively rather than in the middle of a crisis such as a broken hip or an Alzheimer's diagnosis, she said.
A decade ago, Ron Fatoullah, a New York-based certified elder law attorney, rarely recommended that his clients consult a geriatric-care manager. Now he refers at least one-third to see one, if only to validate that seniors and their family are making the appropriate care and financial decisions for their health and happiness.
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