The Differences Between Male and Female Caregivers

We typically think of caregivers as women, and while statistically, it is accurate that more women than men provide care for older family members, men do their fair share.

Hospice nurse visiting an elderly male patient
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He Said, She Said

One reason male caregivers might fly under the radar is that they tend to approach caring for a loved one differently than a woman might. Here are a few of the key differences between male family caregivers and female family caregivers, based on research by the Family Care Alliance, Statistics Canada, and the book Men As Caregivers by Betty J. Kramer and Edward Thompson, Jr.

  1. As a whole, men have shown a preference to manage care rather than administer care. For example, a man would be more likely to hire someone to help with tasks such as bathing or dressing his wife or own father who needs help with these daily activities. They quite simply are not as comfortable providing personal care as women might be.
  2. Researchers have observed that some men are less inclined to talk about any stress they experience related to their caregiving responsibilities or to share caregiving issues with other family members, co-workers, or friends. This, in turn, means that they do not actively seek support in the same way that some women in similar roles might.
  3. In general, men tend to look for practical solutions to a caregiving dilemma and women process the emotions of why care is needed. One example of this is that men might consider remote technology as part of a care plan rather than something more hands-on.
  4. Men report feeling less prepared for caregiving than women do so that when a need arises, they are not sure where to turn or who to ask.
  5. Men tend to wait until there is a crisis—such as hospitalization—before looking for any type of professional care assistance for their family member, but a woman is more likely to look for this type of help once she has experienced caregiver burnout.

Within these differences, there are more subtleties between men who care for their wives, men who care for a disabled child, and men who care for elderly parents. For example, In the case of men that provide support for their wives, they are more likely to provide personal care than non-spousal caregivers.

Don’t Go It Alone

Just because men are less likely to share their caregiving concerns with those closest to them doesn’t mean that they don’t need support. Research shows that men can experience depression—highest for those who have to place their wife with dementia into a nursing home—and benefit from increased comfort and insight.

Some tips for male family caregivers—and females too—to make sure they don’t burn out:

  1. Join a support group that meets online or in-person regularly. There are many kinds of support groups out there—some just for men, some that are disease-specific, some that are affiliated with a local church, and more. This is an opportunity not just to share your woes, but also to gain insight from those who have walked the same path.
  2. Take care of you. Either continue to or begin to eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and get a good night’s sleep consistently. Even long-distance caregivers can put aside time they might have spent on self-care to manage a loved one’s care. However, neglecting one’s own well-being is not sustainable and then you run the risk of not being able to care for your loved one in the same capacity.
  3. Ask for help. Whether it is seeking additional help with care from other family members or going to a health care provider for your own medical needs, put your hand up rather than maintaining stoicism. Men especially tend to take on a family caregiver role as another job they must handle independently when the reality is that a team of loving and quality care might benefit everyone.
  4. Take a break. There are a few non-profit organizations such as Caregifted and Well Spouse Association that provide respite retreat opportunities for family caregivers. Even taking an hour to for one’s self once a day or once a week can make a difference in the ability to re-energize.

If you are a male family caregiver, know that you are not alone. If you know a man who is providing family care, see if he is getting the support he needs.

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