In 1996, men accounted for just 19% of those caring for older or disabled family members. Today that number is up to nearly 40% according to the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance on Caregiving. With the increasing number of men taking on full and part-time caregiving roles, it is essential that we acknowledge the important role men play in the caregiving community and look at how the role of caregiving affects them differently than it does women.
Male caregivers face some of the same challenges as women caregivers. They also face some unique challenges. Much like women, male caregivers are facing time constraints and obligations that are competing for their time and attention. Men are often still working while caring for a loved one and must juggle the demands of a work schedule and the uncertainty of what it will mean for their positions in the workplace if they need to take time off to care for a spouse or parent.
Like women, men are likely to get lost in the day to day responsibilities of caregiving and lose sight of the importance of taking time for themselves. As with any caregiver, we need to encourage men to take time out of their day to exercise, read a book, meditate or do something else they enjoy that brings them some sense of relaxation and rejuvenation. It is essential to their ability to care for themselves and their loved ones.
Also like women, men oftentimes have difficulty asking for help. Because men tend to have a desire to “fix it”, they can not know when or how to ask for assistance. If you have a male caregiver in your family or network of friends, it is best to help with specific solutions or offers. ‘Can I bring dinner on Tuesday?’ ‘I am going to the store, give me your list and I will do your shopping.’ An open-ended, ‘Let me know what I can do’ is often going to be left unanswered.
One obstacle men seem to continue to face in the world of caregiving is the perception that the caregiving role is a female one. Some male caregivers report being overshadowed by female counterparts or not being taken seriously by employers, medical professionals, or support organizations. As the number of male caregivers increases, this is sure to change. Until then it is important to acknowledge the important work they are doing.
Male caregivers also frequently report feeling overwhelmed and unprepared for the tasks at hand. For many male caregivers, the need to multitask and meet the demands of caregiving while also learning new skills can cause a great deal of anxiety. Men also face the obstacle of being unfamiliar with social service agencies which can be a source of support and assistance during these difficult times.
Thankfully, as the number of male caregivers has been increasing, so have the number of support groups specifically targeting men. And because men tend to rely on technology as a caregiving resource, they have had a fairly easy time finding these local support groups. These local and online support groups can be extremely helpful to men as they navigate the often difficult tasks associated with caregiving.
If you are a caregiver who needs assistance or support, information on local caregiver support groups can be found through your local Area Agencies on Aging, the various disease associations, and by searching online.
We applaud all the caregivers out there who so selflessly give of themselves to their loved ones. Please remember to take care of yourself and to ask for help when needed.