Tip Sheets

What reporters should know about geriatric care managers

Melissa Patrick

By Melissa Patrick

Geriatric care managers have been around for decades and their numbers continue to grow, but many people have never heard of them.

The Aging Life Care Association (ACLA), the trade association for the industry, says geriatric care managers provide a “holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults or others facing ongoing health challenges.” The association has about 1,700 members and adds about 300 more each year.

The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau. And about 80 percent of them have at least one chronic disease and 77 percent have at least two, says the National Council on Aging.

All that adds up to a growing population of seniors primed to need more health care services – including geriatric care managers –  in the coming years.

What do they do?

Geriatric care managers are known by many names, including aging life care managers, aging life care specialists or aging life care professionals – to name only a few – but they all provide similar services that involve helping elderly and disabled clients and their families plan and coordinate care.

Their services range from mediating family discussions around complicated topics and helping them to create short- and long-term care plans for their aging or disabled family members to actually driving clients to their doctors appointments and acting as their advocate during the visits.

A geriatric care manager can save a family money, time and stress, according to Gretchen Napier, owner and CEO of LifeLinks, a company that provides geriatric care managers to people in Middle-Tennessee and parts of North Carolina. “We help people make decisions fully informed of the risk, rather than guessing your way through it and learning by trial and error.”

One of the first things a geriatric care manager can do is make sure a family knows what benefits are available to them and then assist with the application process. For example, they can help veterans obtain services they may not have known about. A Harris survey conducted for the senior referral service A Place for Mom, found 69 percent of senior veterans and their loved ones were not aware of the benefits available to them.

Gwyneth Blackwell, a certified care manager, writes about the many ways geriatric care managers can save families money on health care, as well as how they can lessen the emotional and physical costs of family caregiving in a blog post for her company.

Research from Florida's ALCA chapter found that the most common reasons given for hiring a geriatric care manager were because the respondents didn't live near the client, they were concerned about changes in the client's status; they were in the middle of a crisis; or needed professional assessment to explore options for the client's care. Other reasons were for dementia or Alzheimer's care and family dissension. Respondents in this study were all considered the “responsible party” for the care manager's payment.

The geriatric care managers I spoke to said one of the main things they do is help families work through the long-term care insurance process, largely because people are often initially denied. 

Lisa Laney, an advanced aging life care professional and owner of Mountain Area Premier Care Navigation in North Carolina said 25 percent of her work is helping people activate long-term care insurance policies, which is extremely difficult, even for someone who is experienced. Part of the problem is that many seniors are not willing to admit to their evaluating nurse that they need any help.

Laney said 80 percent of her clients were over 70 and the rest were younger clients with chronic health conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease or cancer.

One of the many challenges that families of these younger adults have is finding age-appropriate services and age-appropriate long-term care facilities. This is also a problem for patients who have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

Donald M. Freedman, an elder law attorney in Massachusetts, offers a comprehensive overview in the Journal of Aging Life Care about how geriatric care managers can help clients who are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, which affects about 5 percent, or 200,000 people in the United States.

Good results, at a price

People who use the services of a geriatric care manager seem to be happy with them.

Hart Fetsko, a 65-year-old woman who hired a geriatric care manager after 14 months of caring for her 92-year-old mother, told The Columbus Dispatch: “It's like having your own personal concierge. I can finally sleep at nights. I feel such a sense of relief.” 

And research from the Florida study found that almost all of the respondents said the geriatric care manager had had “a positive effect” on the client as well as on their own lives.

But such services come with out-of-pocket costs that are out of reach for many, creating an access barrier for a service that arguably everyone could use at some point in their lives.

Not including the cost of the initial visit, which is typically billed at a higher rate, geriatric care managers charge between $50 and $200 an hour depending on where a person lives—and insurance rarely covers it. For example, a geriatric care manager in Ohio will cost $100 an hour while one in New York City can range from $150 to $200 per hour.

According to The National Care Planning Council, hiring a care manager should be no different than hiring an attorney to help with legal problems or a CPA to help with tax problems. Most people don't attempt to solve legal problems on their own. And the use of professional tax advice can be an invaluable investment. The same is true of using a care manager.

Some argue that state agencies offer similar services for free. However, care managers in these free programs often have very high caseloads. Case managers in the Tennessee “Choices” program, which serves aging or disabled Medicaid clients, can have as many as 150 cases at a time, according to Napier.

Are they qualified?

Geriatric care managers are often nurses, social workers, psychologists or physical therapists who specialize in elderly care. And while they are not required to be licensed, many do become certified.

Board certification provides proof of meeting a minimum level of experience, expertise and knowledge in the field of case management, that the care manager understands how to work with a consumer and give them quality care, according to The Commission for Case Manager Certification.

Certification organizations include the Aging Life Care Association, formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care managers, the Commission for Case Managers, the National Association of Social Workers and the National Academy of Certified Care Managers.

Story ideas

  1. Patients with early onset Alzheimer's struggle to find age-appropriate services and age-appropriate long-term care facilities, geriatric care managers can help.

  2. Long-term care insurance policies are all the rage, but many who have them can't qualify to use them — geriatric care managers can help with the process.

  3. Young adults with chronic health conditions or disabilities have many of the same struggles as seniors, geriatric care managers are a great resource for these families too.

  4. When aging parents are no longer able to care for themselves, but the kids can't agree on a plan of action, geriatric care managers can help mediate and make a plan.

  5. How geriatric care managers can help you make a plan for aging –  before a crisis hits.

  6. What is a geriatric care manager? And why do I need one?

  7. Here is how a geriatric care manager can save you money.

  8. Patients continue to be blind-sided by Medicare's “Observation Status”, a geriatric care manager can help.

  9. Geriatric care managers can help you find new doctors after a big move

  10. Health care providers love geriatric care managers, but are they referring their patients to them?

  11. How a geriatric care manager can help maximize available benefits, especially for veterans.

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Melissa Patrick (@MelissaPatrick1 ) is a writer for Kentucky Health News. She was a 2016 AHCJ-Rural Health Journalism Fellow and a  2014 AHCJ-Academic Health Journalism Fellow.