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A New Strategy to Meet the Needs of the Elderly

By Alan Lipton

Getting older isn't what it used to be. There was a time when senior members of the community lived amongst their extended family, relying on their children or grandchildren for support. But as the Baby Boomer generation pushes the population's media age higher and higher, and as each generation seems to move farther and farther from its geographical roots, the act of younger generations caring for their elderly relatives is becoming less common. Nowadays, the elderly must find alternative ways to receive the type of care they need, though many seniors are reluctant to move into retirement homes or assisted living facilities.

This demographic shift and the elderly's general aversion to retirement homes point to the need for something called geriatric care management. Once the unpaid job of a relative, neighbor, or community member with a heart of gold, this emerging profession serves a growing population of seniors with a blend of social work, psychology, gerontology and advocacy. When younger family members are too distant or busy to help their elders adapt to declining health or ability, someone has to do the job. That person must have a case-by-case understanding of what options are practical, what resources are available, and how to connect clients with the services they need. He or she must have the personality to invite confidence and the resilience to be there for minor or major emergencies.

If you're considering a career as a geriatric care manager (GCM), you should be proficient in six areas:

Assessing your client means evaluating his or her medical, social and economic situation. Does this person show signs of dementia? Is there a support network, and is it reliable? Is home care an affordable option over a move to assisted living? Many of the decisions facing your client's family members will be the basis of your assessment.

Planning involves setting goals that are both optimal and realistic for your client, and that will maximize available resources. As a case manager working for a family, you must respect your clients' wishes and ideas.

For implementation of these goals, be available and ready to intervene, whether dealing with current crises or preventing them from happening.

Through coordination, you connect your client to any appropriate services, such as medical care or home assistance programs.

Monitoring your client's ongoing care means that you're the liaison between all members of the team you've assembled.

Evaluation is similar to your first assessment, but as an ongoing view from an insider's perspective. Now that your client is on track toward a specific goal, it's your job to determine his or her progress and whether those goals might need to change.

This can be a demanding workload, especially if you're handling anywhere from five to 30 simultaneous cases. But when you consider that GCMs' average hourly rate is $74, with some established professionals charging up to $200 and billing in 15-minute increments, it's easy to see the advantages of entering this growing profession.

While there are no legal requirements for establishing a GCM practice, at the minimum you should have an understanding of gerontology, whether through previous professional background or extensive self-study. You should also be familiar with the legal and financial realities of the elderly, and know how to best focus your motivational and conflict resolution techniques. There are many ways to build your skill set, although a comprehensive approach will save time and money.

Consider, for instance, the online certificate program in Geriatric Care Management from Kaplan University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, which is recommended for health and human services professionals actively interested in this evolving sector of the health care industry. During Kaplan's 12-month, non-credit program, you'll work through seven courses that should provide all the information you'll need.

Introduction to Geriatric Care Management begins with a professional overview of what this market demands and what you'll require to succeed in it.

Aging as a Reality approaches the science of gerontology Here you'll learn about age's physical and mental effects on the human system, along with medical intervention, cultural perceptions and public policy.

Psychosocial Issues in Aging examines how elderly people handle grief, isolation, family dynamics, sexuality, change and hope.

Balancing Age and Independence addresses how, as a GCM, you can build the support systems that will allow seniors to continue living on their own or to transition with comfort and dignity into an assisted living situation.

Financial Considerations of the Elderly explores the world of investments, pensions and retirement plans, the maze of Medicare and other public assistance programs, and practical concerns such as housing and long-term care.

Legal and Ethical Issues in Geriatric Care Management discusses elder abuse or neglect, and end-of-life decisions. GCMs will also learn about mandatory reporting laws in the states where they intend to practice.

Successful Aging introduces health and wellness strategies, empowerment, adjustment to change, and the positive trends among an aging population in a youth-oriented culture.

Kaplan University, headquartered in Davenport, IA, operates 69 campuses in 16 states and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The GCM certificate program, launched in December 2004, is the latest addition to Kaplan's Health Care Pathways series. You can participate from anywhere in the world with a personal computer, email and web access, and the ability to handle MS Word documents. During the recommended 8 to 12 hours of weekly study time, online message board discussions will put you on equal footing with your fellow students. Instructors can easily monitor your progress through the coursework, and you'll have access to faculty members and academic advisers throughout the program.

With the American population living longer and the elderly requiring a more integrated approach to their care than ever before, certificate programs like Kaplan University's Geriatric Care Management program play a large role in preparing the workforce to handle this growing need. At the same time, it empowers its graduates to jumpstart a great career while making a big difference in the lives of elderly persons who can use a helping hand.

About The Author
Alan Lipton

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