Nothing will turn your world upside down as quickly as a sudden illness or injury involving an elderly loved one. This is true whether you live next door to them, or across the country. More often than not, the occurrence comes at an incredibly inconvenient time for the caregiver. This could be due to immediate family obligations with your children, or perhaps there is a situation at your job that makes it difficult to engage in the crisis at hand with your elderly loved one. What can you do to make this a more manageable situation?
First, take a look at the resources at hand. If your loved one is in a hospital, you should ask for a conference with the assigned case manager. Ask them to paint a picture for you in regards to the immediate, intermediate, and long term needs, as well as community resources. Try to understand what is medically going on. If there is more than one physician involved, ask the case manager if she can arrange a meeting between you and all physicians together. If the hospital case manager is not able to provide the necessary information (which is sometimes the situation due to high case loads and job responsibilities), consider hiring a private geriatric care manager to help you put the puzzle pieces together. There are several websites that can refer you to reputable care managers, including the Aging Life Care Association.
Once you understand the situation, make a plan with the assistance of your care manager. Think about what you can realistically give to this situation and what is affordable to your family. A geriatric care manager can assist you with arranging care, monitoring care, looking for community resources, and communication with all caregivers involved. She can provide consistent, thorough communication and take care of all the details that you would do if you were in a position to do so. Many care managers will accompany the client to all of their medical appointments and even follow them to the emergency room if needed in the middle of the night. Geriatric care managers also typically are very familiar with community resources, and know which providers are reputable and who to avoid. The right care manager will save you much time and potentially money.
If you choose not to use a geriatric care manager, you will need to make sure you screen all potential care-giving providers or facilities very thoroughly. There are many checklists available on the web to help you do this. You will also need to make sure that all physicians are on the same page. Make sure that all physicians have a complete list of all medications, as well as all conditions for which other physicians are giving treatment. Many of the area offices on aging will be able to provide you will lists of community resources and provider lists. It is a lot more work to function without the aid of a geriatric care manager, so make sure you give yourself a learning curve and time to learn the system.