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Caregiving Chronicles

News and analysis on caregiving topics in MetroWest and beyond.

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Caregiving Chronicles will present news and analysis on caregiving topics in MetroWest and around the world, in-depth Q&As with experts in fields related to caregiving and updates and announcements about caregiving resources available in MetroWest from CaregivingMetroWest.org Program Director Douglas Flynn.


Caregiving Chronicles Q&A: Discussing the growing number of men taking on family caregiving roles and the challenges they can face
By Douglas Flynn / June 8, 2017

Editor’s note: The Caregiving Chronicles blog has partnered with Century Health Systems to bring additional expert information and advice to the MetroWest caregivers we strive to serve at CaregivingMetroWest.org. Century Health Systems, the parent corporation of Distinguished Care Options and the Natick Visiting Nurse Association, has allowed Caregiving Chronicles to get some valuable insight from its staff for our ongoing series of Q&A sessions with caregiving experts.  

In this entry, we discuss the increasing number of men taking on family caregiving roles, some of the unique issues faced by male caregivers and some strategies for male caregivers to deal with the stress and toll they may face in caring for a loved one. Providing insight is Juanita Allen Kingsley, Wilderness EMT, who is the Director of Business Development for Century Health Systems. 

A health educator, she trains more than 2,000 people in the MetroWest region annually through her First Aid, Wilderness First Aid, CPR and AED classes in addition to the variety of health and safety programs she teaches. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Boston University and completed EMT training at Northeastern University. She received her Wilderness EMT training certification through Mountain Aid Training International. 

For more information, visit www.centuryhealth.org or call 508-651-1786.


Caregiving MetroWest: Traditionally, family caregiving roles have primarily been fulfilled by women, with surveys earlier this decade estimating as many as 75 percent of caregivers in the U.S. being female. But a 2015 AARP study found 40 percent of American caregivers are now men. Why do you believe men are taking on more caregiving roles now?
Juanita Allen Kingsley:
As women are more in the work force and are working longer in their lives, it’s no longer always the daughter who is the “by default caregiver.” In addition, as we live longer, both men and women have a higher probability of living with a spouse with dementia. 

CGMW: In prior generations, male contributions to caregiving had often been confined to more “traditional” roles like assisting with finances or helping with home repairs and maintenance, but that same AARP study found that 63 percent of male caregivers now report that they are the primary caregiver for their loved one and 49 percent were caring for a parent or in-law with a long-term condition requiring help with activities of daily living such as eating, dressing or bathing. Do you have any advice for men taking on these expanded caregiving roles?
Allen Kingsley: Don’t assume that you know how to dress or bathe or feed your loved one. It’s very different from helping your young children many years ago. Think of these tasks as all new skills and seek an opportunity to learn from a home health aide or another professional who not only knows these skills but is adept at teaching them. Look and see if your loved one’s home care services also cover caregiver education. Above all, value the health of your back! These activities can be very stressful on your back and if you’re hurt, you won’t be able to give care.

CGMW: How does the relationship to the care recipient, for example caring for a spouse versus caring for a parent, impact male caregivers? Is that a different dynamic than female caregivers caring for a spouse as opposed to a parent?
Allen Kingsley: Men may feel less confident at first in being able to give good care to a spouse since they have not been caregivers all along. A female spouse may “feel bad” that her husband has to care for her. Male caregivers caring for a female parent may find it difficult at first to help with such personal and private activities such as bathing or dressing.

CGMW: The AARP study also noted that male caregivers are more likely to work full-time in addition to their caregiving duties, with 66 percent of male caregivers working compared to 55 percent of female caregivers. What kinds of increased stress can this produce and are there strategies to help caregivers balance the demands of their jobs and their caregiving duties?
Allen Kingsley: The male caregivers and female caregivers who are still working full-time are facing an enormous amount of stress. With these two large roles in their lives – as employee or boss and caregiver – there is simply very little time for themselves. Even if there is paid home care during the working hours, a caregiver still has to manage paid caregivers – their schedules, their absences when they occur, and the compatibility of the paid aide with the patient. This level of emotional and physical exhaustion puts a caregiver at greater risk of getting sick themselves. It is critical that male caregivers ask for outside help from the beginning so that burnout doesn’t occur.

CGMW: What other challenges do men face in being caregivers that women may not? Is there still a struggle for some men (and women) to view these duties as not being “men’s work”? How can we get past those outdated attitudes? 
Allen Kingsley: One of the challenges that male caregivers face is having to learn how to run their household. So very much of what has been done over decades is in the muscle memory of the female patient. When one of our Caregiver Care programs had more men than women as participants, our discussion often revolved around very basic household activities such as meal preparation, laundry, grocery shopping. Our male caregivers were grateful to share their tips and questions with each other. The male caregivers that I met didn’t express a sense of this being “women’s work.” I often did hear admiration for their wives, for all they had done, seemingly effortlessly, in running their households for decades. I think the sheer number of men who are now caregivers is changing our former attitudes. What I did find is that adult children were quicker to help their fathers in providing some respite from caregiving. They saw caregiving as harder on their fathers than adult children might have found it taxed their mothers.

CGMW: Beyond the societal stigmas, many men lack experience in providing direct care or performing many of the duties now being asked of them. Is there any advice to help men in this situation to overcome any fear or reticence caused by their lack of experience in these duties?
Allen Kingsley: I would suggest that men avail themselves of any opportunity they have to learn basic skills in caregiving or household management. If they can find a support group for male caregivers, they’ll feel like they’ve found a fraternity.

CGMW: Is it more difficult in general for men to seek and accept support to help them in their caregiving roles and avoid burnout or depression? Are there strategies to help make male caregivers more willing to seek and accept help?
Allen Kingsley: This paragraph from www.caregiver.org is a great answer to this question:
“Men who are caregivers deal with depression differently. Men are less likely to admit to depression and doctors are less likely to diagnose depression in men. Men will more often ‘self-treat’ their depressive symptoms of anger, irritability, or feelings of powerlessness with alcohol or overwork. Although male caregivers tend to be more willing than female caregivers to hire outside help for assistance with home care duties, they tend to have fewer friends to confide in or positive activities to engage in outside the home. The mistaken assumption that depressive symptoms are a sign of weakness can make it especially difficult for men to seek help.”

CGMW: Are there resources in the area specifically geared to help male caregivers, such as support groups, etc.?
Allen Kingsley: As the paragraph above states – men are more willing to hire outside help, yet less likely to admit they are feeling depressed.

CGMW: Is there anything else male caregivers or those trying to support a male caregiver should know?
Allen Kingsley: The Alzheimer’s Organization has a list of support groups

in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In the MetroWest area, there is one support group specifically for men that is based in Waltham (call 617-527-4446 or email wehiggins1@verizon.net for more information). The Alzheimer's Association Massachusetts and New Hampshire chapter's website is a great place to start the search for a support group, even if one’s loved one is living with a condition other than Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.



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