January 2013 - Men as Caregivers
I recently read an article stating that an estimated $450 billion of care was provided by 42 million family caregivers in 2009, contrasting that to $509 billion spent by Medicare (Business Week, Dec 3, 2012). All indications are that as more people live long into their “golden years” needing care, more of the task of providing care will fall on families, especially if the current safety net is diminished. This will be especially true for middle and lower income families who do not have savings or long term care insurance to help cover the costs.
Traditionally women have been the primary caregivers for their parents and in-laws, but much as child-rearing roles have changed, we are also finding more men providing care to parents and spouses.
The National Family Caregiver Alliance reports that 34% of family caregivers are men. In my experience at PSRC, the caregiving spouse group is predominantly female while the Children of Aging Parents group (younger) is 50/50.
A common stereotype is that men prefer to do tasks while women attend to feelings. Both are needed, whether the care recipient is at home or in a care community. Tasks may include picking up groceries, shoveling the walk, paying the bills, and transporting to doctor’s appointments. Emotional care includes the feelings of the care recipient, who may be sad or angry to be losing friends, spouse, or abilities, and the feelings of the caregiver, who is watching the person they once knew fade away and become more dependent. Many family caregivers try to manage both tasks and emotions. Focus your efforts on the part you do well and get help on the rest from family, friends and professional caregivers.
Being a family caregiver presents many challenges and can be overwhelming. One challenge is balancing caregiving with work and other responsibilities. Men are not expected to take time away from work to care for family, and therefore may have less support from supervisors and coworkers. Another challenge is learning to do the tasks that the care recipient once managed, such as bill-paying, laundry or cooking. Make sure you take care of yourself, including managing your own health care, eating and sleeping well, socializing, and making time for recreational activities. It is important to find sources of replenishment, because caregiving is emotionally draining. Create a network of support for yourself (women do this more intuitively) with people who will give you respite or who understand what you are experiencing. These tips will help you provide good care and give you moments to treasure together with your loved one that are not about care tasks.
Men are also problem-solvers who want to figure out the problem and solve it quickly, but chronic illness and dementia can’t be “fixed.” It is helpful to learn about caregiving and the condition(s) you are managing. But it can be frustrating that you will do a great job and the care recipient will still need more care over time.
PSRC and Trinity Counseling Service are hosting a “Men Do Care” conference on January 12 to focus attention on the growing population of male caregivers. The program will present resources that can make the tasks easier, address common caregiving concerns, and help participants assess whether they are taking care of themselves. It will provide an opportunity for men to discuss the emotional challenges and rewards of family caregiving and the unique ways that men approach caregiving. It will provide the opportunity to share experiences and begin to build a peer support network that will continue as a “men as caregivers” group.
This program is for all the men in this community who want to be great caregivers, whether it is an occasional ride to the store, driving five hours every weekend to check on parents, caring for your wife after surgery, or visiting a friend with dementia. Family caregiving can be one of the most intimate and rewarding experiences of life.
Susan W. Hoskins LCSW
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