Navigating Health and Aging: Holidays can be eye opener about aging family members

April showers bring May flowers. Although this was once a popular phrase, that isn't all that May brings.

May also brings Mother's Day - and for some, the reality that Mom is not doing as well as usual. Holidays seem to accentuate the truth, and too often, the reality of Mom's health declining may be difficult to accept.

Whether families live close or far away, children often reconnect with their families during holidays and special occasions. Those who have not been part of daily life may realize that Mom, Dad or their grandparents have grown a little older and perhaps declined since their last visit. It is a sad reality to witness.

Frequently, children are conflicted and confused about what to do when their loved one shows signs of declining health. To complicate this concern, their loved one may be unsafe to remain home alone or with an equally declining spouse.

Where do you turn when the time comes to evaluate such questions as to whether your loved one is safe at home, whether they could use additional resources to remain in their home safely or whether they can no longer stay in their home given their financial resources or support system?

May is also National Geriatric Care Manager Month.

What are the responsibilities of a certified geriatric care manager? A geriatric care manager is a trained professional who acts as a guide for their client or family of an aging person to advocate for their well-being. A geriatric care manager may be a nurse or a social worker that is board certified as a case manager and then becomes a member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.

Care managers must follow a code of ethics and standards of practice guidelines. Care management services are aimed at keeping people as independent as possible for as long as possible in the least restrictive environment. They help provide resources for services such as housing, home care services, socialization programs, financial and legal planning.

Many people are not aware that geriatric care managers exist. However, families discover that when they work with a geriatric care manager, the load is lightened. Caregiver stress and overload affects millions of wives, husbands, sons, daughters, friends and other family members. In fact, it is estimated that there are 10.9 million unpaid caregivers, most of whom are women at the median age of 51. Most of these caregivers are juggling their own children or grandchildren and, most often, a job. Geriatric care managers can alleviate some of the feelings of being overwhelmed and confused by the system.

The health-care system is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for services while Medicare and Medicaid react with decreased payment for those services. It will become more and more important for consumers to seek assistance to navigate through the system. Hospitals are discharging patients "sicker and quicker" due to Medicare guidelines, and will be penalized if patients return within 30 days. Families are often working in crisis mode to find resources and guidance.

Hospitals are providing care transition coordinators to identify patients who are high risk for readmission, and this can provide families time to re-group after a hospitalization - but those services are short-term. After they are no longer working with the family, a geriatric care manager can continue to guide the client or family.

The fastest growing population of clients requiring care are those affected by Alzheimer's disease or related dementias. No two patients suffering from these terrible diseases have the same course or clinical symptoms. Behavior problems and sleeplessness can push a family to their limits. Having a professional who understands the challenges and can compassionately hold your hand through the process can bring welcomed relief and peace of mind when deciding where to turn for care.