Millions of men are the primary caregivers for their ill and aging loved ones. According to AARP, two out of five unpaid caregivers in the United States are men.
“Most men have grown up in a household–and certainly a culture–in which females have been perceived as the primary family nurturers. Yet, often by necessity, more men than ever are rolling up their sleeves and helping an ill loved one with day-to-day tasks, such as dressing, toileting, bathing, eating, changing dressings and managing medications,” reads an extensive report on Menstuff.org, a digital resource featuring information for and about men.
As more men enter this stereotypically female sphere, it is important to consider what tools and resources male caregivers need to succeed.
One Man's Story of Caring for His Wife
Dan Zeorlin's caregiving story is a textbook example of someone who bravely assumed the role of primary caregiver. In February 2003, Zeorlin's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. He transferred most of his work assignments to his home office so he could provide full-time care for Linda, plus full-time parenting to his two daughters.
“Learning to give care was, for me, an epiphany,” states Zeorlin. “Linda asked me to accompany her on the fight of her life, so I chose to become more dependable.”
Zeorlin had much to learn about his new role. He reached out for help, but at the time in the Kansas City area, he found no support groups or programs specifically for men. He checked nationally for information and support as well, but discovered a similar void.
“Linda's treatments, recovery and recuperation were most intense that first year,” Zeorlin admits. “I had so much to learn. I believed then, as I do now, that sharing experiences and support with other caregivers is very important.”
Over his five-year period of caregiving, Zeorlin became a serious advocate for services and programs for male caregivers. Today, support groups for male caregivers are operating in many areas of the nation. Zeorlin continues his commitment to helping caregivers better themselves, and he has drafted a caregiver's manual for men. What he initially sought but did not find in services, programs and information for male caregivers years ago, is now increasing in availability around the United States.
Tips for Men Providing Care
Below, experts offer various insights for members of this growing demographic who are looking to improve the care they provide and succeed in both their responsibilities and their own self-care.
Menstuff recommends that men who focus on the positive aspects of caregiving will find the task and commitment less challenging. Many men describe increased companionship as one of the most positive aspects of providing care.
Focus on Yourself, Too
Male caregivers need to focus on maintaining their own health. “Men experience increased anxiety in handling the multiple demands of care, while also learning new skills,” according to Betty J. Kramer, Ph.D, and Edward H. Thompson, Jr., Ph.D., in their book “Men as Caregivers.”
Male caregivers should see their own physicians on a regular basis, maintain a healthy diet and establish a regular exercise routine to ensure they are in good condition to care for another person. “If male caregivers do focus on maintaining their health, they are better able to equip themselves with the skills necessary to handle the care situations and needs,” writes Kendra Micka, MSW, Family Consultant with the California-based Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center.
Accepting and Finding Support
Many men prefer to solve problems on their own rather than ask for help, but it is important for male caregivers to get comfortable with seeking assistance. There are many social, health and human services available in the community that can be beneficial for both caregivers and care recipients alike. Becoming familiar with your local Area Agency on Aging is an excellent place for caregivers to start learning about services and programs that can help.
Support groups for male caregivers have been launched in many communities throughout the nation. Some are specific to certain conditions, such as those operated by the Alzheimer's Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Online support groups are another excellent resource for caregivers to connect, vent, and share experiences.
Men as Caregivers Today
As the number of seniors continues to increase, there is added need for males to support and care for their parents, spouses and other family members. Fortunately, more information and support is available today than ever before.