The Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving estimate that men make up nearly 40 percent of family care providers now, up from 19 percent in a 1996 study by the Alzheimer’s Association.
A national study of male caregivers revealed that the average male caregiver was a white, protestant, middle class, moderately well educated, retired man who was 68 years old. Most caregivers were husbands taking care of their wives.
The generation of men currently providing the most family caregiving was raised in a time when caregiving was viewed as “women’s work.” When they find themselves caring for another adult, either a spouse or a parent, they face a unique set of obstacles.
Male caregivers are more likely to say they feel unprepared for the role, especially intimate tasks like bathing and dressing. Several studies reveal that husband caregivers often worry about not being there for their wives, and feel more powerless, angry, irritable and more likely to use alcohol for self-medication than female caregivers.
Male caregivers do not verbalize their feelings as willingly as women, and may fail to disclose their situations with friends, coworkers, physicians and others. As a result, male caregivers can become socially isolated. Isolation affects women as well, but men are less likely to have friends going through similar experiences and depend more on their jobs for daily human contact.
Men also are less likely to ask for help, even at work. A study at three Fortune 500 companies found that men were less likely to use employee-assistance programs for caregivers because they feared it would be held against them. Although research does not prove it, researchers believe that only two percent of employed family caregivers actually take advantage of the benefits their companies offer.
All caregivers face the physical challenges and stresses of caregiving, such as lifting and transferring the care recipient, loss of sleep and feelings of grief and anger that can lead to a decline in the caregiver’s health. Male caregivers are even more in danger of this decline in health, since studies show that hormonal differences put men at greater risk for stress-related illnesses. Men also are less likely to pay attention to their own health concerns.
Male caregivers need access to education, information, respite care, counseling and therapy, transportation and health services for both themselves and for their care recipient.
Tips for male caregivers
The AARP offers these tips for male caregivers:
•. If someone asks what he or she can do to help, have a list in the back of your mind and tell that person.
• Have something to look forward to—whether it’s a big trip or just a rental movie to watch at home. Remind yourself that you will get through this.
• Acknowledge your emotions. You’re human, not a robot.
•. Set up a group e-mail to keep family and friends in the loop.
•. If you’re a spousal caregiver, don’t put off shared pleasures. If you and your wife always dreamed of going to the Caribbean and the trip is still feasible, do it now.
•. Remember that most of the little issues don’t count. Discuss them and find what works for both you and your patient.
•. Learn as much as you can about your patient’s disease, even though it might be scary.
From Aging Connection, a publication of the Ohio Department of Aging.