As the theme of this issue of Caregiver Connections is male caregiving, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
First of all, it’s great to see the numbers rising, particularly those male caregivers who are caring for a parent. Traditionally, this has been a role that has fallen to a daughter, daughter-in-law or another female relative. With the changing demographics in our society and the shrinking of available family members to care for a loved one, we see more and more men in this role.
Interestingly, AARP’s recently released report on the status of male caregiving says that not only are the numbers growing, but they are shifting in their responsibilities. While in the past they may have helped with managing finances, legal matters or driving their parent to a doctor’s appointment, now they are also helping with feeding, toileting, dressing, etc., tasks that females traditionally handled in their families.
How do men view caregiving, and do they cope with the stresses any differently than women? From the men I have interviewed over the years, the resounding statements I hear are, “It’s time for me to take care of her; she took care of me for so many years. It’s what you do for someone you love.”
Exceptions abound, of course, but men tend to view caregiving as another problem to be solved; they focus on the tasks to get the job done and move on to the next task. (Does the word “compartmentalize” resonate?) Women often tend to focus on the relationships, feelings involved, and caregiving becomes a part of their identity. The male mindset may make it easier to cope with the stress, and perhaps makes for a healthier person when the caregiving role is finished. I’ve never heard a man say, “I don’t know who I am anymore now that I’m not a caregiver.” Food for thought.
Most women will reach out for assistance, but research shows men are less likely to ask for help and can miss out on resources to assist them. Taking care of a loved one is too hard to do all alone. Everyone needs help, for the sake of the care receiver and the overall health and well-being of the caregiver.
While women typically can express their feelings about their caregiving role, it’s usually harder for men. They aren’t as likely to join a support group or get a “caregiver buddy” to talk to about their feelings. While sharing isn’t easy for everyone, it does tend to decrease your stress level. It also helps to hear about other caregivers’ experiences. You learn that you are not alone in this role, that there is “comfort in numbers."
It’s important for all caregivers to set realistic expectations, get others involved and keep self-care a high priority. Pace yourself; caregiving is usually a marathon, not a sprint. You want to make the finish line.
Director of Community Programs
Community Hospice & Palliative Care