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Senior Citizen's Guide to Connecticut

Geriatric Care Managers Offer Peace of Mind

"Taking one day at a time is a great way to relax on vacation," says Joanne Walsh, MBA, president and CEO of Constellation Health Services in Norwalk, "But it's not a good way to approach the needs that may arise as a person ages."

And, in the 21st century, more of us will be looking to address those challenges — legal, medical and social. According to U.S. government figures, since 1950 the number of Americans over 65 has nearly tripled, and the probability of surviving past 80 years of age has doubled.

Of course, many elders remain healthy, active and independent. Still, "retaining independence," says Phyllis Boynton, RN, MPH, CCM, "does not mean that a person doesn't need help." Finding the right kind of help and coordinating the often complex range of services that elders and their families need is the job of the geriatric care manager (GCM).

The work of a GCM — who can come from a background in social work, nursing, gerontology or psychology — begins with a thorough assessment, done wherever the elder is living, usually with family present. Boynton, a geriatric care manager at Constellation Health Services, explains, "I look at the whole picture. What is the person's medical status? How appropriate is the current living situation? Are there legal or financial issues to attend to? What services or benefits programs are they eligible for? What support systems are in place? What do they need assistance with? What are their goals? How are the family dynamics? An important part of this process is that it encourages elders to make their wishes known."

Once the initial assessment is completed, the GCM's work can take many forms. Walsh says, "the GCM is responsible only to the client — not to any institution."

Boynton cites examples from her own experience to illustrate the services that a GCM might provide. "I've coached adult children over the phone on how to describe symptoms to medical personnel when a parent has been rushed to the emergency room. I've helped a distraught son figure out how to care for a father with whom he had a troubled relationship. I walk clients through applying for state and federal benefits, and teach them how the systems work. I perform safety evaluations and recommend modifications to allow people to remain in their own homes whenever possible. I help families coordinate hospital and rehabilitation facility discharge plans and recommend agencies to contact about obtaining assistance. I share information on area rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes, as well as on other professionals such as eldercare attorneys and financial planners."

Recently, Boynton helped a client with no family nearby coordinate a move from her home to an assisted living facility. For loved ones at a distance, the GCM is "a particular godsend," says Walsh, overseeing care, alerting families to problems and, whether family is available or not, being an on-the-scene advocate in times of crisis, such as sudden hospitalization.

"Every person is different, every family is different," says Boynton. "What works for one may not work for another; what worked today may not work tomorrow. Our mission is offering information clients need to make their best decisions, and then doing whatever is necessary to help elders live lives that are as healthy, fulfilling and independent as possible."

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