A recent study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving revealed a trend: Men are increasingly playing the role of family caregiver. Some 40 percent of family caregivers are men, and among millennials that figure jumps to 50 percent. I guess the men in my family have been ahead of their time: My granddaddy C.V. cared for my grandmother Genevieve (who had Alzheimer's) for many years, and my dad was my mom's primary caregiver for nearly 20 years after she suffered a stroke at the age of 63.
In my family, we never expected granddaddy to be such a wonderful caregiver. He was a bit rough around the edges (he cussed just about every other word) and spent much of their married life in the military, often away from home. But when my grandmother gradually lost the ability to care for herself, he dressed her, bathed her, did her hair, cooked for her and did the best he could to manage tricky things like incontinence.
Over time we arranged for meals and home care assistance for them, but he remained "in charge" of her care. I'll never forget sitting with them at their dining room table at a time when grandmother's health had greatly deteriorated. Unable to feed herself or walk, she seemed so fragile sitting there, lost in her own world. He looked at her and said, "Isn't she the cutest thing? She always was and always will be!"
Love prevailed. My grandmother died when she was 88, and my grandfather joined her six weeks later at the age of 98. His job here was done.
During that time, my dad was, of course, providing care and support for his parents from a distance, in addition to caring for my mom after the stroke. As the years went on, Dad developed Alzheimer's disease, but even as his cognitive abilities declined, he was still driven by his desire to care for Mom. Until she passed on, he focused on doing anything he could to make her comfortable and happy. Mom was his North Star. Without his purpose of caring for Mom, the Alzheimer's has progressed much more quickly for him.