What does healthy aging mean? World travel? Leisure activities like golf or tennis? How about something as simple as spending time with friends or the grandkids, or relaxing with a good book?
The “golden years” mean different things to different people, but rarely do those visions include the nagging physical ailments or distressing cognitive impairment that leave you and your loved ones upset, confused, or even hopeless.
The good news is that healthy aging is attainable even in the face of a multitude of challenges. As the U.S. population ages—nearly 1 in 4 adults will be over the age of 65 by the year 2020–Geriatric Care Managers can provide expertise, advocacy and referrals to resources that can help older adults continue to live vibrantly and safely for many golden years.
What is a Geriatric Care Manager?
A Geriatric Care Manager is a non-medical specialist who advocates for older adults and the families who are providing for their care. The Geriatric Care Manager is educated and experienced in any of several fields related to care management, including, but not limited to gerontology, social work, or psychology, with a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care.
As we age, it’s helpful to define “healthy” not necessarily as vigorous exercise or having the same physical shape we had half a lifetime ago, but rather how each individual older adult can create an environment that embraces his/her interests while managing the physical and cognitive challenges that can potentially come with aging. A Geriatric Care Manager can assist in creating an appropriate care plan for older adults facing the aforementioned challenges, among others.
Through a detailed clinical assessment and monitoring, a GCM is able to see the client as a whole. The assessment tools allow the GCM insight into the client’s current and past medical history, indicators of any social and economic red flags, as well as family dynamics. This comprehensive overview enables the Care Manager to help the client and family plan, problem-solve, educate and advocate for the client’s overall health and well-being.
Providing Expertise & Managing Resources
The adult children taking care of aging parents or loved ones are facing a new societal challenge. With Americans living longer then ever before, they are having to provide care for their elders while often times still juggling a job and their own children. Caregiver stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life.
With a Geriatric Care Manager in place,
much of this stress can be alleviated.
For example, by attending doctor appointments and communicating among doctor, client, and family (if appropriate), a GCM stays abreast of the older adult’s medical issues and makes the necessary suggestions on how to foster healthy aging. As a GCM is a non-medical professional, these suggestions to promote optimum health are based solely on doctor/patient feedback. Examples of possible changes to promote brain health are memory games or puzzles. Engaging in such activities with a friend or caregiver may slow memory loss. Researchers continue to study dementia and cognitive impairment, but there appears to be a consistent link between brain training and a decreased risk of mental decline.
Providing opportunities for clients to engage in social, recreational, or cultural activities are time-tested and proven to enrich quality of life and stimulate healthy aging. Too often, families mistakenly conclude that their aging family member is “too physically compromised”, “too cognitively impaired”, or “anti-social” to reap the benefits of socialization. Scholarly articles clearly state that mental stimulation and socialization are tools to healthy aging. The objective of such fine-tuning is better quality of life.
A Golden Light at the End of the Tunnel
Older adults frequently feel that a medical or cognitive diagnosis is the start of a journey with no light at the end of the tunnel. A Geriatric Care Manager is knowledgeable on a wide variety of community based programs and services that encourage seniors to maintain their safety and, in turn, their dignity.
Knowing that an aging parent is safe and well cared for is a common concern for adult children. A GCM monitors the client’s adherence to medical orders and instructions while keeping family members (if authorized) and professionals informed of the well-being and changing needs of the client. Many situations factor in as to why an adult child is unable to provide round-the-clock caregiving. In many situations, the adult child or caregiver has never dealt with an aging loved one and has no idea where to turn.
To say aging is overwhelming is an under statement. When a condition is diagnosed or an elderly spouse passes away, lives feel as if they’ve been turned upside down. All too often, families are faced with all of the business at hand and aren’t afforded the opportunity to take it all in or mourn the loss at hand: the loss of independence, the loss of routine, the loss of a loved one. Days on end can be spent researching solutions. A Geriatric Care Manager conducts a comprehensive assessment and helps the family plan for the current and future needs of their aging loved one, taking potential guess-work off the family’s plate and allowing that family member’s time and attention to be focused on the family.
As a Geriatric Care Manager I can’t take away the fear that often accompanies aging, but I can hold your hand and travel the road alongside you. Geriatric Care Managers can help you find glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel and in the process, help you and your aging loved one redefine healthy aging.