November is National Family Caregivers Month. Approximately 39% of US adults are caregivers. The classic picture that comes to my mind when I think of caregiver is a wife and mother in her mid-40 to 50’s caring for both her children and older parents. Interestingly the demographics are changing. In 2009 men accounted for 34% of the nearly 65 million caregivers in the United States. But a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that the number of male caregivers may be as high as 45%. According to the Alzheimer’s Association “between 1996 and 2011 the number of men caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or some type of dementia has almost doubled from 19% to 40%”. Some reasons for this include demographics as Alzheimer’s and dementia are more predominate in women (3.9 million cases) compared to men (1.8 million), the tight economy making it more difficult to hire outside help, smaller family size which may mean no sisters to help, and the longer life expectancy of men.
In my own occupational therapy home care practice I see these statistics play out more every day. There are more sons caring for their parents, often their mothers, and an increasing amount of husbands caring for their wives. Transferring from the traditional role of breadwinner to caregiver or in many cases having to embrace both roles simultaneously is often very challenging for the men I have come to work with.
A comprehensive study conducted by the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University looked at the diverse ways that men and women take on the role of caregiver. “Men tend to deal with the stress of caregiving more successfully because they adopt a “block and tackle” approach to tasks, says the study’s lead author, I-Fen-Lin. “Men complete a caregiving task and move on to the next thing” says Lin. “Conversely women are more socialized to be nurturing but internalize their caregiving performance with constant worry and anxiety, thus leading to higher, more persistent stress levels”.
Peter R Rosenberger, host of a radio show which focuses on caregiving and author of Wear Comfortable Shoes which chronicles the 28 years he spent caring for his disabled wife, believes “men are more assertive when advocating for their loved ones against doctors and hospital staff, demanding straight answers about the patient’s condition.” That being said, men also “struggle with the chaos of the health care system because they are problem solvers and when there is no clear solution they feel ineffective which may lead to depression.”
Several studies point to the trend that male caregivers are reluctant to ask for help, thinking that the manly thing is to go it on their own. If there is a problem they don’t want to feel it or talk about how they feel about it-they just want to solve it and move on.
Men-there is a lot of help out there! In my next post I’ll talk about some solutions to some common problems.
By Lynda Shrager
Published Nov 11, 2013