When Men Become Caregivers
Men may need to step up to become primary caregivers for ill parents or spouses. Here are tips for managing the challenges.

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Picture of male caregiver caring for wife When Men Become Caregivers

A woman facing a diagnosis of cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease, or any serious condition must deal with new stresses, fears, and physical symptoms. But she isn't the only one whose life is about to change. Her husband, partner, or other relative may be facing challenges, too.

Being thrust into the role of caregiver can be jarring. While learning how to manage a loved one's health issues and new needs, a man may face anger, guilt, fear, isolation, grief, and worries about money.

Overcoming common caregiving obstacles
About 14.5 million men in the U.S. are caregivers to a sick loved one. Many of them deal with caregiving issues differently than women do. Here are some examples:

  • Embarrassment. About 30 percent of female caregivers help with bathing their loved one. But only 16 percent of male caregivers do this. There's no clear reason why men have more difficulty helping their loved one in this way. If you are a male caregiver and do not feel comfortable taking care of your loved one's bathing or hygiene needs, consider using paid assistance. Sometimes these services are covered by insurance.
  • Long distance. Men tend to live farther away from their elderly parents than women do. One solution to this challenge is to hire a geriatric social worker to help oversee local care. Other services can provide transportation for an elder who needs to visit a doctor or therapist.
  • Full-time job. Balancing a full workload with caregiving is quite stressful. About 82 percent of male caregivers work full-time compared to 70 percent of female caregivers. It's not uncommon for a man to feel it's a sign of weakness or a lack of dedication to their jobs to ask for time off to provide care. A study at three Fortune 500 companies found that male caregivers did not use employee assistance programs as much as women from the same company. The men in the study said they feared asking for help would be used against them.

Using your strengths to your advantage
Even though caregiving as a man can sometimes be challenging, there are some things that you may do naturally that can actually ease the burdens. Here are some examples:

  • Be a tech geek. Some men love technology. So use it to your advantage. Browsing the Internet can keep a male caregiver well connected to resources, support, and information. Using your smartphone to set reminders for giving medication or calling to check in is another way of incorporating cutting-edge technology into good old-fashioned care.
  • Organize and delegate. Even though you may be the primary caregiver, it doesn't mean you have to do it all alone. Ask for help with specific tasks from friends, community or religious groups you belong to, or other relatives. Set manageable schedules for these tasks to get done. And don't forget to say thanks after someone comes through for you.
  • Don't let distance make things tougher. If you are far away from the person you provide care to, find a neighbor or friend your loved one trusts. Ask this person to keep an eye out for you and to call you if a need arises.
  • Make it a family affair. Just because you are the person in the family who provides the most care, don't make all the decisions by yourself. Ask other family members for their opinions, too. This also makes it more likely they will help pitch in when you need an extra caregiving hand.
By Eric Leins, Staff Writer
Created on 02/07/2008
Updated on 05/13/2011
Sources:
  • Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons. Caregiving: it's different for men.
  • North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services. Men providing eldercare: special issues, concerns and resources.
  • Ohio Department of Aging. Male Caregivers: a population with special issues.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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