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Wednesday, 20 Sep 2017

The Male Caregiver

Today, caregiving is no longer an act performed predominately by women. Male caregivers account for more than 40 percent of informal care providers. Sixty percent of these caregivers work full-time outside the home, and it is estimated that 60 percent care for spouses with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The challenges encountered by the male caregiver are interesting and often unique. Men and women confront the demands of life in dissimilar ways, and the male approach to caregiving is no exception. Typically, women bring to caregiving a nurturing attitude. In a similar manner, but rarely noticed, men tend to continue their traditional family role as that of provider or manager. A husband will often explain his caregiving duty as a responsibility, a commitment, or even as a simple fulfillment ofthe marriage vows. For this reason, it is easier to understand that the commitment of a male to provide care stems from a sense of obligation, regardless of whether there is any “give or take” occurring in the relationship.

In the traditional family role as “provider,” male caregivers offer an atypical approach to providing care, often doing so with a management-style attitude and organized in a way that allows them to be in charge or in control. For men, work in the public sector is easily defined and rewarded, quite the opposite of any work provided in the role of a caregiver. In caregiving, there are no holiday bonuses, no promotions, and no public acknowledgment for a job well done. For this reason, the male caregiver may perceive he offers a lesser value to society. The successful male caregiver is one who is able to blend his workplace management and organizational skills with his fatherly (or grandfatherly) nurturing skills.

The major source of social interaction for a man is normally through his work environment. Work provides a personal identity, so it is understandable that a man is reluctant to see himself labeled as a “caregiver.” Caregiving has traditionally been “women’s work,” and it is rare that a man considers the possibility of becoming a caregiver. Caregiving is simply something that blends into the background of family life. However, studies show that a man who accepts the identifying label of “caregiver” increases the chance that he will find not only support, but resources for assistance.

Research has found that men rely on “outside” or formal caregiving assistance more often than women, yet they are less likely to seek out caregiver education or support programs. One reason is that caregiving education is geared towards a female perspective and caregiver support groups are generally comprised of women. It is interesting to note that male caregivers often come together as a result of using the services of adult day care centers or nursing home facilities. Daily regimen and familiar routines often provide a relaxed opportunity to meet other men experiencing similar circumstances. It is not uncommon for a small group of male caregivers to gather socially, perhaps for breakfast, before going to the nursing home. Their social interaction is typically not driven by the need to talk about caregiving, but more by the connection offered by a mutual experience. The conversations they share in this nonthreatening environment allow for honesty without the pressure of rejection or criticism. Without even realizing it, they create an informal caregiving support group.

Male caregivers employ support systems differently than their female counterparts. Men typically try to manage caregiving single-handedly for as long as possible before turning to more formal sources of assistance. Studies show that while women utilize support groups, counselors, and physicians for support, men tend to seek caregiving assistance with housework and home nursing. And, while male caregivers will watch and learn from health-care staff before they ask for help, they will often wait until a serious incident occurs before asking for critical advice or assistance.

There is, however, a new theory that because of their different approach,men adapt to the caregiving role with less burden or negative impact to their physical or mental health than do women. In addition to other positive qualities, men will more often respond to stress through the use of humor; they rely on their spiritual beliefs more than is realized, and they frequently perceive the caregiving experience as a positive one. It should be noted, though, that men often admit to a withdrawal from social activities but concede that it is because their wife was previously in charge of arranging family get-togethers and planning vacations and social activities. To a notable degree, diminished capacity in a female spouse reduces the social circle of her husband.

Men are often frustrated by the fact that their caregiving work and the assistance they provide is largely unseen or unacknowledged. A major problem for male caregivers is their ability to cope with the isolation that results from in-home caregiving. Male caregivers tend to get angry at lack of support from family members, as well as lack of notable participation by adult children, despite the fact that they readily admit adult children “have their own lives.” Many times adult children fail to recognize the immense efforts made on a daily basis by their caregiving parent. Typically, tasks completed on a daily basis are not recognized until something fails to get done. Male caregivers have commented that it is not uncommon for an adult daughter, for example, to come over for a visit, see dirty dishes in the sink or laundry waiting to be done, and offer a comment along the lines of “Oh, Dad, looks like you really could use some help,” implying that the caregiver is unable to provide proper care. These deprecating comments, while most likely intended as an offer of support or assistance, are in fact received as criticism and interpreted as “Well, Dad, just one more thing you’ve not done.” A better way might be to first compliment what is “unseen.”“Wow, Dad, it’s so awesome that you remembered to buy Mom’s favorite white peaches.” No matter how old an individual is the receipt of a sincere compliment such as “Wow, Dad, I’m so glad Mom has you to care for her” can be the most positive reinforcement he hears that day.

For the male caregiver:

• Be honest with yourself. Understand that you aren’t Superman, and you can’t do it all.
• Be honest with your friends as to what is happening in your life—friends and neighbors will empathize and truly be understanding of your situation. There is no dishonor in a request for help, and there is no reason to feel embarrassed about the diagnosis of your loved one.
• Educate yourself. Talk to the doctor, a social worker, or a geriatric care manager; ask questions of health-care workers. Inquire about outside services that can provide assistance or support.
• If you have the assistance of formal caregivers or health-care workers, know that they can provide visual examples of how to deal with your loved one. Watch how they interpret nonverbal cures while providing assistance and learn to use these cues when you provide care.
• Don’t doubt yourself. Know that stress, anger, and frustration are common feelings among caregivers.
• If the opportunity arises, offer assistance to other male caregivers. As someone who’s been down the road before, you are a valuable resource.

 

Being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart. With a twenty-four hour, seven day a week schedule, nonexistent vacation days, rare sick time, and unforeseen interruptions, all family caregivers should be recognized for the invaluable services they provide. The assistance male caregivers provide might not be done in the same way as their female counterparts, but the love and caring that these men provide is no less priceless.

 

Used with the permission of Family Caregiver Magazine.