COPD Caregivers Perspectives: Male Caregivers on the Rise
Here's something you may not have known: men account for 40 percent of the caregiver population, and the number is probably increasing each year, although men don't always admit openly to being caregivers.
Caregiving is a role that may have seemed to come more "naturally" to women than men in the past. But with our rapidly aging population, decreasing access to caregiving support services, women working outside the home, and smaller families, men are increasingly assuming the role of caregiver.
Men Are Often "Invisible" as Caregivers
Too often, as mentioned above, men are what might be thought of as "invisible" caregivers, because they may not even think of themselves that way. And because of that, they often don't gain access to the support systems or outside resources that women might.
Why are men so often not identified as caregivers? Well, the following are probably some of the reasons:
- Men may feel a stigma or bias about taking on a traditionally "female role."
- Men are more likely to be balancing caregiving with employment.
- Men are less likely to have participated in caregiver education programs.
Men Approach & Perform Caregiving Differently
A few years ago, the Center for Home Care Policy & Research conducted a national study by telephone of nearly 5000 households. They found that there were differences between male and female caregivers:
- Provide different kinds of care
- Relate to the person receiving care in different ways
- Engage formal and informal support systems at different levels
- Have distinct needs stemming from caregiving
Specifically, men were less likely to be the primary caregiver and to be as affected health-wise as women caregivers. In addition, they tended to provide less hands-on care.
According to Edward H. Thompson, director of gerontology studies at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass, "Men approach caregiving as a form of work, a series of tasks that needs to be accomplished." There's nothing wrong with that, but it is a different approach than most women caregivers use.
Challenges Significant to Male Caregivers
Despite the fact that men tend to approach caregiving differently than women, they do face many of the same challenges, including depression, stress, exhaustion and reduced personal time.
Also, because men are more used to delegating in the workplace, they are also more comfortable asking for help with the actual care than women are. But they are far less likely to get the emotional support they need.
Tips for Male Caregivers
If you are a man providing care for a spouse or child, you're not alone. Don't forget that. And although your caregiving challenges are not that different from your female counterparts, you are less likely to have heard these tips before. So bear them in mind; they come from other male caregivers, so they should make sense to you!
1. When and if friends or family ask what they can do to help, don't brush them off. You don't have to be strong and do it all. Have a list already in the back of your mind of things you could delegate to them, whether it's a trip to the grocery store, a nice home-cooked meal, or just a couple of hours of respite time for you to get out of the house.
2. Plan some fun time, even if it has to be at home with your loved one. It's important to have some down time, something to look forward to, and a chance to recharge the batteries. It's also an opportunity to connect with the person you're caring for. Maybe rent a movie or plan a special lobster tail dinner, etc. But don't be afraid to take time off and get out with your friends, if you can.
3. Get in touch with how you're feeling. It's OK for men to admit to their emotions. You're doing a tough job and you're not expected to act like a robot, day after day. Reach out to others for support and understanding. You might even be able to find a local male caregiver support group where you can talk to other men who understand what you're going through -- from a male perspective.
4. Don't sweat the small stuff. Focus on what matters each day. Be grateful for the good times, no matter how small and fleeting they may be. Find a reason to smile and laugh every day. And always keep in mind that you're doing the best that you can at any point in time. No one is perfect.
5. If you're still working, be upfront with your employer. They might be more understanding than you think. See if you can work out a plan to effectively balance your work responsibilities with the demands of caregiving.
6. Learn all you can about COPD and related conditions. The more you know about the person you're caring for, from a health standpoint, the better you'll be able to do your caregiving job. Arm yourself with knowledge and understanding.
Resource: The New Face of Caregiving: Male Caregivers by Cathie Gandel for AARP Bulletin Today (Jan 23, 2009)