The important role of male caregivers in caring for aging loved ones
When one hears the word, “caregiver”, one often visualizes a female nurse hovering over a patient … that picture, however, is changing.
More and more of today’s men are choosing caregiving and/or nursing as an informal or formal career. When taking a look at recent statistics, we can learn that “the estimated prevalence of caring for an adult is 16.6%, which equates to 39.8 million Americans. Approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months. The majority of caregivers are female (60 percent), but 40 percent are male.” 1
Both men and women can make excellent caregivers; however, they approach the job much differently. “Studies indicate that 36% of female caregivers handle the most difficult caregiving tasks (i.e., bathing, toileting and dressing) when compared with 24% for their male counterparts, who are more likely to help with finances, arrangement of care, and other less burdensome tasks.”National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP 2
As a former male co-caregiver for my own aging parents (Mom had Parkinson’s disease and Leukemia while Dad had Alzheimer’s disease), I can agree with these observations. Back when my parents were still alive, my own caregiving jobs included helping to move them (repeatedly); driving them to doctor’s appointments; helping to manage their bills and financial investments; and ultimately serving as my father’s Joint Guardian and Alternate Trustee. I admittedly shied away from providing more personal and hands-on care for two reasons – a lack of experience with these jobs (if I tried to lift Mom or Dad out of the bathtub, I may likely have slipped and potentially injured both of us) and a considerable personal discomfort. I feel that it is very important to acknowledge these points – whether for a male or female caregiver – and utilize his/her stronger characteristics. If you ask or demand a caregiver to do something out of his/her comfort zone, you can have an unwilling or resentful caregiver.
In addition to providing more “hands-off” care, there are many other caregiving issues men can tackle. Men are typically more project-based, meaning they may prefer to shovel a senior’s snowy sidewalks, run to the pharmacy to pick up a senior’s medication, take a senior’s winter jacket to the dry cleaner, or meet with a realtor to discuss the possible selling of a senior’s home. They may also want to be an advocate for the senior in their life and ask the tough questions to professional health care providers. Personally, I often took my mother into a local hospital for regular blood transfusions and later visited Dad and took him for walks. On the downside, men often like to “fix” things; however, some caregiving issues cannot be “fixed”.
In addition to approaching the job of caregiving differently, men and women also can respond to the pressures of caregiving differently. Women may prefer to meet with close friends to talk things out, while men may opt to pound out their frustrations at the gym or keep things to themselves. In the case of male caregivers, however, this isn’t always the case. Men can cry – as I did when we moved Dad into a secured facility for Alzheimer’s patients (knowing this would be his final home). Men can also grieve – as I also did after the death of both my parents.
Whether you are going to be a male or female caregiver, preparation is key. People do naturally age. That parents, friends, spouses, or partners will grow older is expected and realistic. Before this happens, be proactive rather than reactive. You can start by having discussions with your siblings about forthcoming caregiving roles and delegate responsibilities, scout around for possible long-term care homes (look for a facility that offers continuing or acute care under the same roof so as to limit moves), locate the parental will (and ensure this is up-to-date), sell the parental car and arrange for alternate transportation, and/or downsize a senior’s home.
Consider a family’s own medical history. If your own parent’s parents fell sick to a certain disease, it could be in the genes and the same thing could happen. If you’re not sure of all the facts behind an expected medical condition, just “Google search” it online (the Internet can be a fabulous thing!) but don’t trust everything you read – check out the writer’s own credentials and consider how often this information has been updated. In addition to learning what you can about your parents’ health online, another excellent source of information can be your parents’ doctor(s). Book an appointment, ask your questions, and bring along a notebook and pen to record a doctor’s answers.
Male caregivers may prefer to tackle certain caregiving jobs themselves, but to reduce the risks of becoming overwhelmed and/or stressed themselves, they do need to be willing to remember a couple of key points:
Focus on Yourself: Caregivers (either male or female) quite naturally focus much of their time, energy, and/or financial resources towards helping an aging loved one. It is imperative, however, for a caregiver to remember his/her own self-care as well. Male caregivers need to maintain a healthy diet (no grabbing a quick coffee and muffin on the way into work and calling it breakfast!), see their own physicians on a regular basis and engage in outside activities and/or hobbies that they enjoy. Taking a break or breather away from caregiving is also known as respite – taking respite routinely can help a male caregiver rest, recharge and be a more effective caregiver.
Reach out for and Accept Outside Help: This goes hand-in-hand with your own self-care. Caregiving is not a job to be done independently. Involving another person (whether a sibling, a friend, a volunteer, or a paid professional) means a male caregiver can have more time for himself. Male caregivers can be more resistant to admitting that they need some help; however, they need to realize this and open up with others. Male caregivers can be more quiet about their needs so they may prefer a confidential support group or the anonymity of an online caregiving message board.