Men as Caregivers
A wife is diagnosed with dementia. A parent who lives alone has a stroke. A divorced son raises his young children while caring for his aging father. Both men and women who need care are depending more on a spouse, son, son-in-law, or brother for assistance than in the past. Where once women naturally took on the responsibilities of caring for an older loved one, men increasingly are becoming primary caregivers.
Today, men comprise nearly one-third of all primary caregivers to older adults, according to the Alzheimer's Association and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Results of a National Long Term Care Survey report that the participation of sons as primary caregivers increased by 50 percent between 1984 and 1994. Additionally, national demographic trends project that increased longevity for men and women will continue to increase the numbers and proportion of male caregivers into the future.
Whether by choice or necessity, however, the role of caregiver for men is one for which they are frequently unprepared. For many men caring for a loved one may involve taking on tasks for which they have never been responsible -- from cleaning, cooking, shopping and laundering, to daily personal care, supervision and financial support. In their ongoing research, social service providers and other organizations have come to realize that the caregiving reality, style and needs of men differ from women, and that men generally do not have the well-developed support systems that women tend to utilize.
The Alzheimer’s Association – Great Plains Chapter offers an Early-Stage Memory Loss group:
Contact: Harold Tompkin (402) 464-4927, firstname.lastname@example.org
The disparity in our knowledge about the growing population of male caregivers is the focus of the recent book, "Men as Caregivers: Theory, Research and Service Implications," by Betty J. Kramer, Ph.D. and Edward H. Thompson Jr., Ph.D. The authors acknowledge that the vast majority of research on caregiving has centered on women, and has contributed to our cultural beliefs and assumptions about gender in envisioning, minimizing, and addressing the needs of men as caregivers.
Gender stereotypes and men's self perceptions create significant challenges for male caregivers. Kramer and Thompson note that men experience more anxiety in handling the multiple demands of care while also learning new skills, have greater physical health difficulties and depression, do not tend to be familiar with dealing with social service agencies, and are often uncomfortable asking for help. Indicative of the fact that men often don't know where to turn for help, a current AdvantAge survey reveals that 35 percent of the men age 65 plus were unaware of most services offered in their community.
At the same time, researchers also acknowledge that men who intimately accept the obligation to personally care for a loved one can derive a great sense of identity and reward from the experience. For example, one of the country’s most well-know male caregivers is Roll Call columnist Morton Kondracke, one of "The Beltway Boys" on the Fox News Channel. His book "Saving Milly: Love, Politics and Parkinson's Disease," (Public Affairs, May 2001) chronicles 13 years of his wife’s illness, detailing his caretaking activities and the changes wrought upon their family as a result of Milly's illness.
The political pundit reveals a new side of himself as he works through his own frustrations and insecurities to take on the role of caregiver. Kondracke doesn't airbrush the realities of Parkinson’s as he shares the growing disabilities his wife has endured. She is dependent on others for physical care and barely able to communicate, and not surprisingly, her illness has resulted in deep depression. Kondracke's experience and those of other male caregivers create the challenge for society to develop a new awareness and appreciation for the caring capacity of men.
While researchers, service providers and support groups are beginning to identify relevant information and interventions for the men in caregiving situations, the question remains -- where does one turn for direction in helping an older adult relative maintain some semblance of independence - living in his or her home as long as realistically possible?
The Eldercare Locator is a valuable resource for older adults and caregivers which puts callers in touch with caring, highly trained specialists who connect them with services provided by State and Area Agencies on Aging in their community. A public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging (AOA), the nationwide toll-free 800 number is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. (EST - eastern standard time). Contact: The Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov).