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“Age Magnificently”: Geriatric Care Managers Help Families Map Changes, Explore Options Before the Needs Arise

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All our adult lives, most of us prize our independence. We like to think of ourselves as free and liberated, living how and where we choose. It’s sort of the American myth: we make our own choices and we go our own way – or at least that’s how we picture ourselves. But as we age, that attitude of self-defined independence can become a stumbling block. We all know of aging seniors, perhaps in our own families, who have stubbornly lived too long on their own, refusing help, and now are forced by unhappy circumstances to leave the home they love.

Does it have to be that way? While it’s true that health conditions or other factors can make independent living impossible for some, in many cases what’s really needed is some expert advice on how to live independently – or, at the very least, how to live as independently as circumstances permit. That’s why we found this short article about the role of Geriatric Care Managers so helpful. We first discovered this brief article on the Kiplinger website last summer, and this seemed like a good time to bring it to your attention.

The article’s author, Joel Theisen, is a registered nurse who, after 25-plus years in critical care and senior care, founded a Minnesota-based senior care agency called Lifespark. His goal, he says, is simple: to help people “age magnificently.” Let’s see what Theisen has to say.

Transition from Independence to Dependence Can Be Instantaneous

“It can happen in an instant,” Theisen writes. “One day your dad is living on his own, independent and mostly healthy despite advancing age. The next he’s in bed with a broken something, dependent on his grown children and forced to move into a long-term care facility because you don’t have time to research alternatives. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times.”

As Theisen acknowledges, growing older isn’t something we can avoid – nor would we wish to. But we really resonate with the idea that moving into a care facility is not the only option.

“It’s not inevitable that he’ll have to give up his home, whether it’s an actual house or an apartment in a senior building,” Theisen advises. “That’s why it’s so important to be proactive rather than reactive, and to find a professional who can help you and your father (or mother) figure out how to remain at home as long as possible, even if injury or illness comes into play.”

Aging in Place is Often the Best Choice

The benefits of staying at home can be both economical and psychological, as we wrote in this Blog article last month.   Studies by AARP and others show that roughly seven out of eight seniors would prefer to age in place, and for good reason.

“First off,” Theisen explains, “it’s almost always far less expensive than a nursing home, which can run upwards of $100,000 a year for a shared room and sometimes double or even triple that for a private one, depending where you live.” Medicaid can help, but depending on your circumstances you might have to spend down almost all of your savings and jump through some complex hoops to qualify.

Assisted living facilities might offer a good alternative for some, and are less pricey, says Theisen. But they still cost a bundle, and most are not covered by Medicaid.

Apart from finances, aging in place offers enormous psychological benefits. If your home is suitable, you’ll be growing older in familiar surroundings, close to neighbors who know you, and still able to visit the places you love: your store, your place of worship, the library, the nearby senior center. No wonder it’s the future most of us envision for ourselves.

Don’t Go It Alone – Get the Advice You Need!

But here’s the loud and clear warning from the Kiplinger article: successful aging in place requires both advance planning and qualified help from trained advisors. “That’s why one of my top recommendations to anyone who asks about elder care is: Do not go it alone,” Theisen warns. “Start exploring options before your parents need them. You want to be acting from a position of strength and health.”

Are there professionals out there who can help? The answer is, absolutely. “Thankfully, there are folks who do this sort of work,” Theisen writes. “Called geriatric care managers (GCMs), life managers or even aging life care coordinators, they’re typically social workers, occupational therapists or nurses who specialize in helping older people figure out what they need and how to get it.”

Theisen adds, tongue in cheek, that a geriatric care manager is “sort of like a professional relative without the built-in family dynamic.” Sounds like a good description.

Theisen’s Advice: Seek Help Sooner, Rather Than Later

One question that often arises when it comes to seeking out a care manager is “when.” How soon should we start the conversation? Theisen has an answer: “I’d say anyone over 65, and certainly by 75, should be having this discussion with a pro.” That’s because, he adds, “It’s not about dependency but independency.”

As Theisen explains a bit more about what a geriatric care manager actually does, it’s easy to see why sooner is better than later to start the dialogue. “A GCM’s job is to discover what’s important to a client, identify limitations (actual and imagined), locate resources, and put a plan in place,” he writes. Some of the elements of these plans can be pretty basic at first, such as adding bathroom grab bars or relocating frequently-used supplies to lower shelves for easier, safer access. But recommendations grow in scope as client needs increase.

Care managers also evaluate needed outside resources. “They can help with everything from interviewing home health aides or personal care attendants well before one’s needed,” Theisen says, “to finding a local [support] group with similar interests, lessening the anxiety that can come from isolation.” All this, he adds, takes the burden off both parents and adult children, “and let the person impacted decide what life will look like going forward.”

The goal, says Theisen, is to help seniors live as full a life as they can, and to thrive rather than just survive.

A Few Places to Find Help and Referrals

The article ends with just a few helpful resources, such as the U.S. Administration on Aging’s directory of caregiving resources. This same site also offers a caregiver corner packed with easy-to-understand information and links to resources. We’ve added a few more.

For example, you may also want to check out websites such as Caring.com and Caregiver.com. Any of these can help families who are feeling overwhelmed. Theisen also suggests contacting your local health department, your primary care physician, or your place of worship. AARP also offers a database of available resources.

You can always feel free to contact AgingOptions or Life Point Law. We maintain a list of trusted referral agencies we can gladly share with you. The main thing, as Theisen advises: “Don’t ever be embarrassed to ask.”  We say “amen” to that.

Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!

We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public.  As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.

You’ve heard Rajiv say it repeatedly: 70 percent of retirement plans will fail. If you know someone whose retirement turned into a nightmare when they were forced into a nursing home, went broke paying for care, or became a burden to their families – and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you – then this book is must-read.

Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.

Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.

Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

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