A Daughter’s Guide to Hiring the Right Aging Care Professional

Recently when I was talking to a friend about daughterhood, she asked me, “Why isn’t there someone I can pay to help me figure out how to get the best care for my mom? You know, someone who can help me navigate the system.”

That’s a really good question. There are, in fact, many different types of professionals you can hire to help out when your parent needs care.

One problem, though, is that, many of the daughters I know are reluctant to pay out of pocket for –- sometimes expensive –- professionals to perform tasks that they feel they should be able to do themselves.

Another problem is that daughters believe that hiring a professional would create more work for them, not less. That is, they think it would be easier to do the work themselves than to manage someone else.

And I get that. We all worry about our money and our time. Maybe some of us even imagine that if we can figure this out for just a little while, everything will settle down into a new normal and we can go back to our regular life.

But, the truth is, that’s magical thinking. Taking care of a loved one is a REALLY BIG JOB and often we don’t realize just how big it is or how much actual professional experience it requires until it’s too late. Of course by the time we do, we’ve already made mistakes and gone through the time consuming and frustrating process of building a whole lot of expertise from scratch.

So, I’d argue that in the long run, if you can afford it and you can find the right person or people to help, you can make a huge difference in your parent’s care. The kind of difference that can help you keep your sanity and avoid expensive mistakes.

However, even if you accept this wisdom, a big question remains: Who do you hire?

As I’ve said before, managing one person’s care requires skills that are essentially the equivalent of a combined MBA, RN, JD and a Masters in Social Work.

So, how in the world do you find that person?!

You’ve got social workers, nurses, lawyers, financial advisors, consultants and life coaches all hanging out shingles that offer families help with some aspect of a frail older adult’s life. Often, on top of their professional degree, they acquire special aging-related training and credentialing from a variety of different professional associations.

It’s hard to know where to turn and it’s more than a little confusing. So, in today’s blog I’m going to give you a run-down of the professional categories for “aging parent help” that I’ve come across.

Here’s a guide to 7 professional designations and how to find them.

1. Geriatric Care Managers. Geriatric care managers are the go-to professionals when you want someone on-the-ground helping to assess your parent’s needs, guiding your family’s decisions, and handling day-to-day issues and challenges. The geriatric care manager (GCM) is often a nurse or social worker who specializes in guiding older adults and families through the complex maze of health and aging services.

GCMs often manage services, negotiate among family members, resolve insurance matters, manage medical care, apply for programs, and interface with other professionals like lawyers. A good GCM is someone you can trust and work with – who will shoulder the responsibility alongside you, present you with good options, help you make decisions and also be good at handling some of the back end details (e.g., wrangling with insurance companies).

GCMs are represented by a professional group called the Aging Life Care Association, which has a website locator to help you find a someone in your area. The website also explains the various levels and types of professional certification.

One thing to keep in mind though is that GCMs usually charge by the hour and rates vary tremendously so be careful as it can add up fairly quickly. Always ask the GCM to give you a ballpark figure of total costs or monthly costs so you know what’s coming.

Read Jane Gross’s NYTimes article, “Why Hire a Geriatric Care Manager

2. Elder Law Attorneys. I’ve been struck recently by how many painful family conflicts occur because parents don’t communicate and codify their wishes clearly before they become too frail to do so. In my view, at its essence, a good elder law attorney will help your parent clarify his or her financial and health care wishes in detail and then ensure that those wishes are protected, as much as possible, by legal contracts and documents.

Elder law attorneys help clients plan for long-term care needs, sort out their advance directives and wills, and make sure the financial power of attorney is in place. They can be a big help understanding the eligibility rules for Medicaid in your parent’s state. Plus, more and more lawyers are teaming up with GCMs to offer one-stop shops.

Read: 5 Common Misconceptions about Medicaid

To find an attorney, check out the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ website which has an elder lawyer locator.

3. Certified Senior Advisors. GCMs, lawyers, and other professionals such as insurance specialists, financial advisors, and home care providers may seek additional professional credentialing through an organization called the Society of Certified Senior Advisors. When you see the CSA credential, it means that the Society of CSAs has certified that the individual is competent to integrate knowledge of senior issues into their professional practice.

As with the others, the Society of Certified Senior Advisors has a professional locator on its website that you can use.

4. Daily Money Managers. One of the most fascinating things I’ve learned this year is that there’s a whole profession dedicated to helping your parents manage their money. It’s called Daily Money Managers (DMM). You can search for one in your area here.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to two women who operate DMM businesses and write blogs. So even if your parents don’t live near their offices, you can still get their advice. One of these is Eddy and Schein, based in NYC and LA. The other is Everyday Money Management, based in Maryland.

5. Senior Move Managers. There’s no doubt that moving a parent to a new home – whether it’s your home, senior housing or a nursing home – delivers the double whammy of serious time consumption and emotional drain.

Well, as it turns out there’s a whole profession (who knew?) to help with this particular challenge. These professionals are called senior move managers. You can read more about them and find one in your area if you go to the National Association of Senior Move Managers’ website.

7. Caregiving Consultants and Coaches. You know, I’ve noticed that, a lot of times, what daughters need most is just someone who can give them practical advice and coaching through what might be one of the greatest emotional challenges of their life. Fortunately, there are individuals offering consulting and coaching to caregivers. Sometimes they do it under one of the professional designations I mentioned above and sometimes they don’t.

Denise Brown at caregiving.com, is an example of someone offering these services. She herself is a coach, and runs a credentialing program for former caregivers who want to become caregiving consultants.

I should also mention that professional patient advocates are another group you can hire to help navigate health care for your aging parent. Some even specialize in certain diseases (like cancer).

The fact here is that this whole area is very chaotic — The increase in life expectancy and size of the aged population is relatively recent so there’s a lot of experimentation going on right now in how to support families.

One of my favorite companies trying to do something new and original is called Wellthy. It’s a super friendly and caring group (I know because I spent a day with them at their headquarters). They deploy a national network of foot soldiers to help you find, vet and coordinate care – AND they do it for a fixed monthly fee so you don’t have to worry about hourly billing rates.

In the end, the decision as to whether to hire help is not an easy one. I understand how hard it is to let go and let someone else help with such an important job. But know that reaching out for help is NOT failing. It can provide tremendous relief and it’s 100% okay to do it.

Stay tuned for a blog on where to turn for free navigation services.