Today nearly one-third of all primary caregivers for older adults are men. Unfortunately, few of us are prepared for this role. Historically, women have been the primary caregivers and nurturers of the family. Many men consider themselves providers for their family from a financial and security perspective and are often ill-prepared for housework, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, daily supervision of children, or more. Many men from an older generation were brought up to believe these tasks are “women’s roles” and may feel uncomfortable performing them. In general men experience more anxiety when multi-tasking 1 and, unlike women, we may not have support systems in place and may not be as comfortable asking friends or family for assistance.
Yet, for those of us who commit to the role, men are loving and capable caregivers who get tremendous satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from it. Men are successful at caregiving for the same reason women are—we love the people in our care.
Whether you’ve recently assumed a caregiving role or will be taking on these responsibilities soon, here are some tips to help you address the challenges, manage your loved one’s care, and get the assistance you may need.
Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid, embarrassed, shy, or too proud to ask for help! Being a caregiver is demanding and it’s difficult to go it alone.
Whenever possible, engage family members to help with specific tasks. Any assistance they provide for running errands, picking-up prescriptions, or assisting with household chores helps reduce your workload. If you’re caring for a special woman in your life, you may now be shopping for personal items, such as under garments and feminine hygiene products. You may not have purchased these items in the past. Be sure to ask a salesperson at the store or a female family member if you need assistance making selections that fit your loved one’s size and needs.
Also, contact your church, community, and faith-based organizations about local support services for both the caregiver and patient. A recent survey showed more than 65 percent of the men responding didn’t know what community or social services were available to them. 2
Consider reaching out by phone, email, or in person to these groups, as well as speaking with a friend or co-worker about resources they may have used to deliver much needed assistance.
Talk to the Doctor
Men tend to act first, and ask questions later. When it comes to caregiving, asking questions should be a top priority. Be sure to talk with your loved one’s doctor to get all the facts about your loved one’s condition and medications. Doing this will help you know what to expect, as well as create a daily routine that addresses your loved one’s needs. You may find that your doctor can appreciate what you’re going through, so you can be comfortable discussing your feelings as well.
Take Care of Yourself
Men are less likely than women to report stress related to their caregiving experience, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel the stress. Be sensitive to how you’re feeling, both mentally and physically. Ask the doctor about support groups for caregivers, including those online and in your community, that focus on your loved one’s condition. Here you’ll be able to share and discuss your feelings and experiences, and learn coping mechanisms to help manage your stress.
And when you can, take some time for yourself. Participate in activities you enjoy—whether it’s watching a baseball or football game, playing golf, enjoying a movie, or simply reading a favorite book or listening to music. Remember if you burn out, you cannot function effectively as a caregiver. Setting aside time for yourself will help you return to your caregiving responsibilities feeling mentally and physically recharged.
1. Editor note: Several studies have shown that the communication and processing centers in the brain are more developed in women, leading experts to suggest that women may be better at multi-tasking.