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Caregiving: It's Different for Men

They're fewer in numbers, but equal in dedication.

It's a well-known fact that most caregivers are women: Of the 43.5 million adults who care for an older family member or friend, nearly two out of three are female, according to a report published by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC). Still, that means that one out of three caregivers — about 14.5 million — are men. That's a significant number: about 6 percent of all adults in the United States. And while male caregivers deal with many of the same issues as their female counterparts, they also face some unique challenges. 

1. Male caregivers are less likely to be the sole or primary caregiver but are just as dedicated to their role: The duration of their caregiving experience is about four years, the same as women.

2. They're less likely to provide personal care.

  • 24 percent of male caregivers help a loved one get dressed, compared to 28 percent of female caregivers.
  • 16 percent help with bathing, versus 30 percent of females.     

This makes sense to me: It's just not as easy for an adult son to help his mom in the shower as an adult daughter. No wonder data shows that over 40 percent of men use paid assistance for their loved one's personal care. That can be a really good solution to this touchy issue.

3. Men tend to live farther away, and as a result they have to travel farther or spend more time organizing the care from a distance. What's more, men are more likely to use an outside service to provide for the transportation needs of their loved one.

4. They're more plugged in. Men have an advantage in their comfort level with technology. They're more likely to use the Internet as a caregiving resource.

5. More men work full time. Though men and women devote the same amount of time (an average of 19 hours a week) to caregiving, 82 percent of male caregivers have full-time jobs, compared to 70 percent of female caregivers. Consequently, two-thirds of men say they have to make workplace adjustments, such as going in late, leaving early, or taking time off.

I remember on Star Trek that when Captain Kirk needed the Enterprise to go faster, he'd call down to Scottie, the engineer, who'd reply with something like, “We're already at 100 percent capacity. We can push the drive system to 102 or 103 percent, but it's not recommended!” I think that's how many men must feel about balancing work life with their caregiving responsibilities.

Although traditional gender roles have shifted dramatically over the last 30 years, many men are hesitant to let a boss know about their role as a caregiver, much less ask for help. Although it's the 21st century, the notion that men are from Mars and women from Venus remains vivid in many people's minds. In fact, men can have a particularly difficult time dealing with the perception that their request to take time off to care for Mom will be seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment to the job. While women might feel the same pressures, there's no doubt in my mind that these stereotypes are still alive and well in the workplace.

But at the end of the day, it is still about people caring for a beloved family member or friend. Caregiving men, although fewer in number, are just as dedicated, diligent and determined to help their loved one live the best life that he or she can. Family caregiving remains the backbone of the long-term care system in this country. Men and women every day give of their time and money, and it's a commitment that we should all appreciate. I applaud all caregivers, whether they are from Venus or Mars!

Take care,

Elinor

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