Men as Caregivers

Men as Caregivers for Seniors

by Vicki Jordan

Caregiving, once thought of as exclusively a woman’s role, is now becoming more and more of a man’s role as well. In 1997, a survey done by AARP and the National Alliance for Caring found approximately 27 percent of caregivers were men. By 2004, that number had jumped to approximately 40 percent, and it is projected to increase even more due to the size of families becoming smaller, increasing divorce rates, longer life spans, more women working outside the home, and a greater geographic divide among family members.

According to a 2003 study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and The Center for Productive Aging at Towson University, men and women caregivers are similar in that both report they:

  • are the primary caregiver, mostly of a parent or parent-in-law;
  • take care of daily tasks such as grocery shopping, managing medications, and providing transportation;
  • provide financial support;
  • had negative consequences to their personal lives as a result of caregiving; and
  • had to modify their work schedules, miss some work and were considering a job change as a result of caregiving.

Importantly, however, men and women caregivers are different in the following ways:

  • Men are less involved in personal care tasks such as bathing, dressing, and toileting, and more involved with financial tasks;
  • Men are providing more long distance care;
  • Men are less likely to discuss caregiving with others, regardless of whether they are family, friends, co-workers, or supervisors;
  • Men are less likely to admit emotional stress or depression as a result of caregiving; and
  • Men are less likely to use employee assistance programs for caregivers because they fear it would be held against them.

One striking difference not listed above is that of the social perception/gender stereotype of caregivers. For example, one male caregiver reported being looked down upon by his parents’ neighbors when he moved in to take care of his mother; apparently the neighbors assumed he was not taking care of her but living off of her. Another reported that nursing home staff seemed reluctant to share information with him about his mother and that they seemed more open with his sister. Other male caregivers reported that they were made to feel their interest in their relative was inappropriate.

As more men become involved with caregiving, the social perception/gender stereotype of caregivers will undoubtedly change. In the meantime, however, it is crucial for the male caregiver to make himself known to his loved one’s doctors and various care providers, as well as the loved one’s friends and neighbors. The friends and neighbors will likely become allies to lean on for assistance, as well as great sources of information about the loved one’s day-to-day condition, especially if care is being provided from a distance.

Finally, the following are some helpful tips for the male caregiver:

  • Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s disease or diagnosis;
  • Allow others to help you investigate community resources and delegate caregiving tasks to family members;
  • Allow yourself social support – talk to your friends and family, find an online or local support group;
  • Take time for yourself – maintain your friendships and personal interests;
  • Talk to your employer about your caregiving situation and utilize any employee caregiver benefits they offer; and
  • Realize you can’t “fix” everything and there is no manual for caregiving.
Source: National Association for Home Care & Hospice