What do you think of when hear the word “caregiver”?
You probably imagine a woman, often in middle age or later, working herself to the bone caring for an elderly spouse, parent, or other loved one. You probably don’t think of men.
But male caregivers are on the rise. Specifically for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, men account for almost 40 percent of caregivers. This is double the amount of male caregivers 15 years ago.
There are many factors that go into this huge increase, ranging from economic to societal. Another important factor is that more aging women have Alzheimer’s than men, putting their husbands in the caregiving seat.
Regardless of what’s causing it, the fact is, men make up a large percentage of caregivers. Most resources for caregivers, though, are geared to women. As an example, caregiver support groups are dominated by women, with very few men represented.
Today we’ll pay some attention to this neglected group, by bringing you some tips specifically for male caregivers.
1. Open up about your feelings.
While each individual man or woman deals with their emotions in their unique ways, men as a group tend to be more closed.
Caregiving, though, is a very tough and emotionally draining job. Caregivers, especially when they’re caring for a parent or spouse, experience a huge range of emotions on a daily basis. It’s important to talk them out and release them, so you don’t constantly carry the toxic load of guilt, resentment, fear, stress, and other emotions.
To help you process your feelings in healthy way, find at least one close friend or family member who can support you on this journey. Studies have shown that while men are more likely to talk to friends and coworkers about the practical aspects of caregiving, they’re slower to admit to emotional stress or depression as a result of it.
Don’t get caught up in trying to “be strong” and “take it like a man.” All humans need to express and release strong emotions and stress.
2. Give and get support.
Consider joining a support group, or starting one specifically for male caregivers. While most of the issues that come up in caregiving are universal for men and women, there are differences in the way they handle things. For example, women tend to be more emotional, while men are more practical-minded.
Men may feel safer to share their outlook among other men. Some men even find it easier to participate in online caregiver forums than attend in-person meetings. Try out both mediums, and see what works for you.
3. Don’t overlook self-care.
This is important for all caregivers, but an especially important reminder for men. Statistically, men don’t see their primary care physicians as often as women do, and they also don’t take their aches and pains as seriously.
Men: take care of yourselves. You owe it to the loved one you’re caring for, and you owe it to yourself.
Particularly if you yourself are elderly, it’s important to eat well, get enough sleep, and see your doctor when you feel ill.
4. Keep in mind the gender bias.
Unfortunately, a deeply held gender bias still exists in caregiving. Even if you are your parent’s primary caregiver, their doctors may still assume your sister is the one in charge. Make sure all medical providers involved in your loved one’s care know you are the one most knowledgeable about the patient’s condition, and they need to speak to you.
For the male caregivers reading this, have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments.