By ENCARNACION PYLE
The Columbus Dispatch
Hart Fetsko feels grateful and fortunate to be able to care for her aging mother.
But after she had provided for her mom’s every need for 14 months, a health care worker warned her recently if she didn’t look after herself, she couldn’t be her best for her mother.
“I was starting to feel run down, frazzled, even quick to anger,” said Fetsko, 65. “I was told I needed to get out of the house.”
Yet after having problems finding reliable home-health care, she didn’t see a way she could leave her mom, Martha, who turns 92 this month, even for a bit.
She already had cut back her hours, and then retired, as a tax professional after work and home responsibilities became too hard to juggle. And she didn’t feel right asking her 74-year-old husband, Joe, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, to do more than he had been doing.
Recently, the couple’s financial planner recommended they hire a geriatric-care manager to help with care planning and coordination.
“It’s like having your own personal concierge,” Fetsko said. “I can finally sleep at nights. I feel such a sense of relief.”
Although the profession has been around for decades, it’s only recently started to take off as the population of baby boomers hitting older age grows.
By 2050, the number of seniors is expected to more than double, to nearly 89 million, according to census estimates. And as people live longer with more chronic diseases, there will be a growing need for more people in senior-caring professions, experts say.
The geriatric-care management field is growing. The Aging Life Care Association, a trade association for the industry, reports about 300 new members a year.
Geriatric-care managers are educated and experienced in any of a number of fields, such as gerontology, nursing, psychology, social work or occupational or physical therapy. They typically start by assessing an older adult’s situation and figuring out what services can help them, said Melanie Hankinson, managing director of IKOR of Northwest Columbus, one of about a half-dozen geriatric-care management businesses in that area.
“We want people to have the best quality of life, in the safest place possible, for as long as they can,” said Hankinson, who worked as a physical-therapy assistant and medical-equipment and medical-services saleswoman for 18 years before becoming a care manager last year.
Geriatric-care managers can provide a variety of services, including:
Reviewing a senior’s living situation and recommending changes, home-care services or a move to a facility, if needed. In the event of a move, they can help determine whether independent living, assisted living or skilled nursing care would be best.
Serving as an extra set of eyes and ears if an elder is in a long-term-care facility. That could include visiting the facility on different days and times to check on the older adult’s physical care, emotional state and social engagement.
Attending doctor appointments, helping seniors and their families communicate with medical professionals, and making sure that doctors’ orders are understood and followed. Many care-management companies such as IKOR employ nurse advocates to help with this and other medical-related issues.
Helping with routine bill-paying or financial planning for future care. That could include working with a person who has power of attorney, an estate-planning lawyer or a financial planner. Some companies can hold power of attorney for their clients or act as guardians or agents.
Providing support to caregivers who often try to take on too much. They also can help families work through internal conflicts and differences of opinion about long-term-care planning. They should be familiar with local services available to seniors and their caregivers and how to access them.
Not everyone is buying into the field, however. Some critics say private-care managers are expensive: Costs can range between $50 and $200 an hour, depending on the geographic area; central Ohio is about $100.
Many also say some of the same services are available for free at other senior-serving organizations, such as the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging and the Franklin County Office on Aging.
Although there are certification organizations for care management such as the Aging Life Care Association, the Commission for Case Managers and the National Association of Social Workers, no state or national regulatory license is needed. Individuals might have other licenses, such as in nursing or social work.
“I think they do fill a gap for a lot of families who have the resources, especially in the case of a long-distance caregiver,” said Patty Callahan, an information and assistance coordinator for the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging. “But like anything else, people should do their research, consider comparison-shopping and be sure to vet any business before they hire them.”
During a home visit last week, Sandy Miller, who worked as a nurse for 40 years before joining IKOR as a nurse advocate, asked Fetsko’s mother, Martha Hays, a series of health questions and had her do things such as close her eyes and turn around while standing.
“Look at that posture,” Miller gushed. “That’s from your dance background.”
Miller proceeded to tell the 91-year-old she was the picture of health – despite having Alzheimer’s and a heart condition and having suffered fractures of four of her neck vertebrae in late 2015.
“I’m impressed. This is what I hope to look like at your age,” Miller said.
Hays agreed: “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m perfect.”