When most people think of a family caregiver they picture a woman. It’s true, according to AARP’s Caregiving in the US report, 60 percent of caregivers are women. However, the number of men providing care is growing as the population of people over the age of 65 soars.
Here are a few male caregiver statistics from the same AARP report that might surprise you:
- Their average age is 49 and the average age of people in their care is 69
- Men are less likely to be the sole or primary caregiver, but are equally dedicated to their role.
- The average length of their caregiving duties is the same as women’s – generally four years.
- Data shows that men are less likely to provide personal care, such as bathing and dressing, than are females, but data shows that many use paid assistance for these tasks.
What the data doesn’t tell us is how men experience the role of caregiving and whether they have specific needs for support. Men may be less likely to ask for help and may hold in more emotional stress about their caregiving challenges.
Twenty percent of the callers to New York City Alzheimer’s Association Help Line are male. Even though we know over 30 percent of dementia caregivers are men, this might illustrate underuse of other kinds of services intended to help people carry out this loving but demanding duty.
Because there’s little research on the concerns of men in this role, experts can only theorize about the issue. Perhaps men are especially worried that if they ask for time off to care for their mother, it is as a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment to the job.
A “go-it-alone” philosophy might cause men to miss resources that can ease the caregiver burden or to delay using them longer than necessary. As a result, they might never find out about employer-offered services such as caregiver support groups, flex time and paid or unpaid leave.
It’s important for men to realize that asking for assistance isn’t a sign of weakness, but a strategy for improving the quality of care they provide. Keeping a caregiver journal is another tool that can help men understand their stress level and provide the best care for their loved one.
So how can we help? If you know a male caregiver, look beyond what he’s saying – which is usually ‘I’m fine, we’re fine’ – to detect unspoken signs of stress. Be patient and allow him to express his feelings, keeping in mind this might be embarrassing for him. When he does open up, be prepared with concrete information, such as educational materials and details on workshops and support groups.
Above all, listen, listen, and listen some more.