As more men step into the role of caregiver for aging and frail parents or spouses, they face challenges that may be different from those faced by other caregivers. And their approach to the job may disadvantage them.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that roughly 18.7 million men were caring for adults in 2020, up from about 16 million in 2015, based on data from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. About half of them are caring for parents or parents-in-law.
And while daughters are still more likely to be caring for parents than are sons, the gap is closing. The article said about 47% of adults ages 18-34 who care for someone with dementia are men.
“Caregiving is difficult for everyone but it can take a particular emotional and financial toll on sons because they tend to keep things to themselves, don’t seek support, and feel uncomfortable providing personal care. In many cases, it’s often millennial men who are taking on the responsibility just as they are trying to establish their professional and personal lives,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Men caregivers face caregiving burden, have weak support networks and are less likely to seek out programs which increase their caregiving capabilities and help them cope with this burden,” as a 2019 study in the journal Healthcare put it.
They’re not only less apt than women to create support systems for themselves, but they also may be more reluctant to tell their bosses they’ve undertaken a caregiver role, though it could impact their work, experts say.
Male caregivers often step out of the workforce or reduce their work at crucial points when they are launching their careers, which means they will likely be somewhat financially disadvantaged for a long time and may not ever make up for the lost time and career advancement. That was the fear of writer Brandon Will, featured in The Wall Street Journal article. He put his own work on hold to care for his mother Janice Will in her Forest Park, Illinois, home after Parkinson’s disease meant she needed full-time help.
Men may be more reluctant to talk to their employers about their caregiving tasks, as well, the report said, although AARP’s 2017 survey/report, “Breaking Stereotypes: Spotlight on Male Family Caregivers,” found 62% of male caregivers “had to make changes to their jobs to accommodate their responsibilities for their loved ones, including 15% who took a leave of absence or shifted from full- to part-time work and 6% who retired early or gave up working entirely,” as an article on Considerable.com reported.
Larry Bocchiere, of Bethel, Connecticut, took care of his wife full time as she got sicker and sicker from emphysema. Eventually, he had to help her with everything. “A man looks at a problem and tries to fix it,” he told Considerable.com. “It’s real easy to get frustrated when you can’t fix it. That’s what happens with a chronic illness.”
Who are the male caregivers?
The AARP survey report notes some interesting facts about male caregivers:
Nearly 3 in 10 of all male family caregivers are millennials, the average age in the group 26.9 years old.
The average age for a caregiver son or son-in-law is 46.4 years old.
Among those males caring for a spouse, the average age is 62.5 years old.
44% of all male family caregivers have a household income below $50,000.
Nearly half (49%) say they felt they had no choice in taking on the responsibility. Among those caring for a spouse or partner, that number is 62%.
Among the tasks that male caregivers tackle are managing finances, including paying bills or filling out insurance claims, shopping, housework, preparing meals and transportation.
The report said that “despite some misperceptions, male family caregivers are performing medical and nursing tasks, as well as a range of personal care activities.” And about 6 in 10 of those males said they had not received training to do those tasks, but would like it.
A need for some help
When the Healthcare study researchers, from Connecticut College, looked at the emotional, financial and physical burden experienced by male caregivers, they found that all caregivers are faced with those burdens — especially emotional stress. But sons reported experiencing the “highest emotional and financial strain levels.”
That study and others suggest that helping with personal care is the most stressful task for male caregivers, but that having help from family and friends, carving out time to “decompress” and feeling appreciated by the person for whom they were caring helped a lot.
In the study, son caregivers were also more apt to report they didn’t have adequate time to themselves, compared to other caregivers and husbands.
The study noted that all caregivers are to a degree burdened and said that society, through policies and programs, should help alleviate it. “No caregiver, man or woman, can provide such an intensive task alone, so we need to pay attention to caregiver well-being because they significantly contribute to societal welfare,” the researchers wrote. “Thus we need a community of care for aging individuals and for their caregivers to strengthen our social safety net.”