Traditionally, most men have a harder time sharing feelings and emotions than women do. They seek medical advice less often than women and they tend to resist attending specialized support groups more than women. While the trend for younger men may be leading them toward a more open way of communicating, it’s the older generation whose wives have developed Alzheimer’s that is faced with caregiving. These men are often uncomfortable sharing confidences with people who they view as outsiders.
An article on Sun-Sentinal.com tells the story of a fairly typical male caregiver. Dale Bruhn, 88, of Delray Beach, Fla. says that, "There are some men who are going to feel uncomfortable talking about their issues in mixed [company].” Bruhn cares for his wife who has Alzheimer’s. However, while performing his caregiving duties, Bruhn began suffering what is sometimes called mock heart attacks from the stress of caring for his wife over the course of 7 years. He kept insisting he was fine.
Bruhn agrees that men tend to put up walls. He says he and others were raised to believe that “boys don’t cry.” His wife’s nurse finally convinced him to join a support group, where he was able to share his fear, pain and often conflicting feelings with others in the group. Bruhn was fortunate in that this particular group was predominately male, therefore he felt more comfortable about sharing his feelings. This ratio of male to female group members was simply a chance happening, however Bruhn feels that having other men in the group helped him open up. He now runs a men-only Alzheimer’s support group that is offered by the Alzheimer’s Association Southeast Florida Chapter.
Two decades ago, one in four caregivers was a man. Now, according to a study published by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (currently known as the Caregiver Action Network), one in three caregivers is a man. Statistically, women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease because they tend to live longer and Alzheimer’s risk accelerates with age. That means more husbands are likely to be caring for wives with AD than the reverse.
There are, of course, many women caring for husbands who have developed Alzheimer’s or other diseases such as heart disease or the aftermath of a stroke. Also, while sons are increasingly helping out, the average family caregiver for aging parents is a daughter. Likely, if any of us took a polling of the average caregiver support group, most of the attendees would also be women.
Yet, I hear from male spouses frequently about the challenges of caring for their wives who have Alzheimer’s disease and each of them has said that after sticking with a support group for awhile, gender no longer matters. They receive support and caring from the others in the group because they share the same problems. Still, with the male reluctance to share personal problems with others, many men would be more likely to join an all male support group than a mixed group, especially one that is mostly comprised of women.
I’d like to think that most of these men would eventually find that a mixed group is satisfactory, but people rendered emotionally fragile by the stress of long-term caregiving should be offered the most helpful type of support possible. If that means that more men-only support groups need to be made available, so be it. Spouses of either gender can also find significant support by going online to the Well Spouse Association. This approach may help some men who simply won’t attend an in-person support group.
The bottom line is that with increasing numbers of men becoming caregivers, Alzheimer’s organizations and others who set up support groups need to look into male-only groups, at least for starters. As relatives and friends of male caregivers, we too need to offer our support and understanding. In today’s world, caregiving and caregiving support is no longer just female territory.
Lade, D.C. (2013, May 2) Guys who care: Male caregivers need special support. Sun-Sentinal.com. Retrieved from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/health/fl-male-caregivers-increase-20130501,0,2828472.story
Ginzlor, E. (2010, July) Caregiving: It’s Different for Men. AARP. Retrieved from http://www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-07-2010/ginzler-male-caregivers.html
Thompson, D. (2011, June 13) Alzheimer's: A Woman's Disease? Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia than men — but why? Everyday Health. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/alzheimers/alzheimers-and-gender.aspx
Published On: May 29, 2013