JF&CS News Summer 2012

handsWhen Geriatric Care Manager Gail Leichtman first met Beth's* parents, they were in two different hospitals. Beth lived in New Jersey while her parents, in their late 80s, lived near Boston. Her mother was suffering from chronic progressive lung disease, diabetes, and the long-term effects of alcoholism. Her dad's digestive processes had essentially shut down and he was deaf in one ear. Their complex medical needs were beyond what the staff of their luxury retirement community could manage. Beth was terrified that they were going to die or, if they didn't, that she had no way to care for them long distance.

Long distance care-giving for elderly parents is a growing issue for many of us. Sometimes, even with family close by, an elder's medical needs can become too complex for family to manage. Your Elder Experts Geriatric Care Managers like Gail work with complicated cases and provide extensive ongoing care, whether family is near or far.

"It is very difficult to care for an elderly parent from a distance without this type of intervention. Having a local contact with expertise, who knows the person's baseline and what is normal for them, makes a huge difference in the quality of care," said Gail.

Happily, through Gail's skilled communication and coordination with hospital physicians, the couple recovered sufficiently to be able to return to their apartment in the retirement community. Gail worked closely with staff there to set up additional supportive care, including monitoring the wife's diabetes and alcohol-related blood sugar issues.

This was the beginning of a seven-year relationship during which Gail worked closely with the family to provide expert care for this well-educated, worldly, professional couple who were confronting a wide range of health issues. "Beth's father would call her and she would call me and I would go check out the situation," said Gail.

At Beth's request, Gail managed the couple's medical care, attending all doctor's appointments and working with private care aides. She also reorganized and rearranged the couple's apartment, full of a lifetime's worth of belongings from their large house, to make it more efficient and safe for the wife to move around with her walker and oxygen tubing.

"I made sure everyone was on track and that the couple got the care they needed," said Gail. "We are the holders of the history. We make sure that what happens in the emergency room, hospital, or the doctor's office gets followed up on."

Gail has been working with elders since 1982 and joined Your Elder Experts, the JF&CS geriatric care management program, in 2007. Like many in her field, she has extensive education in counseling and social work and is a Certified Care Manager. Your Elder Experts offers one-time consultation and assessment, crisis management, and ongoing, day-to-day care management for elders, their families, and caregivers to enhance the elders' quality of life, encourage independence, and provide a safe and supportive living environment.

Thanks to Gail's expert care management, the couple was able to live comfortably in their apartment for five more years, remaining part of the vibrant social life of the community and staying together as a couple. When the wife's diabetes became too difficult to manage she moved to a nursing home while the husband remained alone in their apartment. But it quickly became apparent that despite the wife's ailments, she had been the one keeping her husband, who was prone to leaving the kettle on, safe in their home. At age 91, after a cardiac event, he was sent to the emergency room, and then moved to the nursing home.

In October 2011 Gail was able to unite the couple once again at the nursing center. She was gratified that they were able to spend their last months together in the same room. In June 2012, Beth's father died in the bed next to his wife, with their long-time caregiver with them.

*Names and locations changed to protect privacy.

Your Elder Experts can help support family caregivers no matter how simple or complex the situation may be. We specialize in caring for people with dementia, as well as medically complicated cases like the one described here. Download our 10 Absolutes for Alzheimer's Caregiving

For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.