Men’s Health Month: A Topic for Family Caregivers
June is Men’s Health Month, a national observance aimed to raise awareness about the importance of health care for men. It is an occasion used to encourage family and friends to remind their fathers, sons, husbands and the other men in their lives to get all the recommended health screenings and checkups, and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
We might not think of family caregiving as a Men’s Health Month topic. Traditionally, caregiving was seen as the realm of women. A man’s wife was more likely to care for his aging parents than he was. But now, in the same way fathers are more involved with caring for their children, men are doing more to support the well-being of older and disabled relatives. Smaller families combined with changing gender roles mean more men are caring for their spouse or partner, their parents, or for their partner’s parents.
Experts estimate that around 40% of today’s caregivers are male. “Male family caregivers are often misperceived as assisting only with finance or transportation roles,” notes the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA). But in fact, they report, men also provide assistance with eating, bathing and toileting. They coordinate their love one’s health care appointments and help them manage medications. And they provide emotional support.
Most people agree it’s equitable that men are stepping up in this way—and experts say it’s also beneficial, not only for the person receiving care or for women in the family, but also for men. A recent study from Colorado State University found that when men focus more on family care work, they are less likely to overinvest emotionally in their role at their paid work. Psychology professor Silvia Sara Canetto, who conducted a study on suicide rates among men, found that men who focus heavily on their paid work may be more vulnerable than men who have a better work-family balance. “Doing family care work would be a way for men to diversify their sources of meaning and purpose, as well as their social capital and networks,” said Canetto, who also notes that “having both family care work and family economic responsibilities is more conducive to well-being, health and longevity for men and women than a gendered division of family labor.”
Caregiving can be challenging for anyone. The caregiver’s career may suffer. Caregivers are prone to stress and depression. And the ALCA reports that almost 25% of family caregivers say caregiving has had a negative impact on their health.
While we should be cautious about generalizing along gender roles, research also shows that the issues faced by male caregivers are somewhat different. They experience more emotional distress and physical effects of stress than women. Men often report feeling unprepared for the role. “Personal care might be particularly hard on those men who haven’t spent time in the child care trenches doing things like changing diapers and giving baths,” say experts from the AARP. And if it’s his wife who has had a change in condition, a male caregiver can feel overwhelmed by what may be unfamiliar new tasks—cleaning, cooking, laundry and a shift in “emotional labor.”
Here are eight things male caregivers should know:
While some men readily spring into action to locate support services, others think they should do it all themselves, especially if it’s their spouse for whom they are caring. Remember that other family members and friends will most likely be willing to help. Hold a family brainstorming session for delegating duties and sharing responsibilities. You may even want to consider respite care from a professional caregiver with Right at Home to provide some short-term relief to allow you to mentally and physically recharge.
Seeking help from public agencies does not equal “charity.” Your taxes and those of the person you are caring for have helped build the safety net of social services. And there are many other support options in the community, such as aging life care managers (geriatric care managers) and professional in-home care agencies.
It’s important to gather as much information as possible about your loved one’s condition. The more you know, the more effective an advocate you can be, and the more you will know what to expect. Knowledge is power!
A spectrum of emotions come with being a family caregiver. No matter how much love and satisfaction you feel, caregiving is hard work. Don’t judge yourself if you sometimes feel grief, anger, frustration, guilt or resentment of your changed circumstances.
Keeping painful emotions bottled up can lead to depression and stress-related physical illnesses. Be candid with family members and friends if that feels safe. Or connect with others who are dealing with similar issues, with whom you can brainstorm and problem-solve. That might be in a support group, a caregiver class or an online community of caregivers.
For many caregivers, health care, nutrition, exercise and emotional well-being take a backseat to the pressing needs of their loved one. But taking care of yourself is an essential part of being an effective caregiver. If you are feeling trapped and drained of time and energy, you may be focusing too much on your caregiver role. This is a signal that you need more help.
Employees who also are providing care for a family member frequently find that their two roles compete for time and attention. Studies show that men are more likely to “cover up” for work-related impacts such as coming in late or unexpected absences, rather than being candid with their employer about the situation. Remember that today, with an increasing number of workers balancing work and home responsibilities, many companies have become more accommodating and flexible.
Repeat as necessary: “I will do a better job of caring for my loved one if I am not burned out myself.” Arrange for regular breaks from your role as a caregiver. Relax, do things you enjoy, and seek a change of scenery from time to time. Nurturing your spirit helps recharge your batteries. You’ll come back refreshed, with new energy—something all caregivers need.
Right at Home’s professional in-home caregivers can provide respite care for clients who are living with health challenges, which allows family caregivers to take better care of their own physical and emotional health. Use our office locator to find the location nearest you and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.