Male Caregivers Increasing in Numbers

Many may imagine a typical family caregiver to be an older woman caring for a relative and delivering supportive services without pay. Though men are not typically seen as caregivers, 40 percent of family caregivers are male.

Around 16 million men—husbands, sons, uncles, brothers, and close friends—are caregiving for a loved one, and that number is continuing to grow.

Male Caregivers Also Taking on Complex Tasks

Like many female caregivers, men are often unprepared and overwhelmed with this role. More than half of male family caregivers in the Caring in the U.S. 2015 Survey said it was moderately to very difficult helping recipients with their personal, intimate care needs – tasks that can be difficult physically and emotionally for any caregiver, but particularly so for an adult son caring for his mother or a nephew for his aunt.

According to the Journal of Men’s Studies, male family caregivers are misperceived as performing only financial and transportation assistance, while women take care of hands-on needs such as dressing, bathing, and cooking. But evidence suggests that men provide much more than just that. Researchers in the same report found that a quarter of men helped their care recipient with eating, bathing, and showering— with 30 percent saying they helped with using the toilet.

In the 2012 Home Alone report, more than half of all male family caregivers were performing medical and nursing tasks. Those complex medical and nursing tasks include injections, tube feeding, wound care and administering medication. About 72 percent of all male caregivers say that no one prepared them for those medical and nursing tasks.

And while caregiving can be rewarding, male caregivers also experience similar physical and emotional strain as women.

May Less Likely to Open up to Others

In AARP’s Niche Report, nearly 62 percent of male caregivers reported their caregiving experience moderately to very stressful, with half saying they experienced severe physical strain due to their responsibilities.

Men say they are less likely to open up to others when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. An AARP article on male caregivers states that men saw themselves differently compared to female caregivers in their openness to talk about the strains and challenges of caregiving.

A Story of Three Male Caregivers in Our Community

Fortunately, this is not the case for all male caregivers. Larry, Bobby and Mark each cared for their mothers and later developed a connection through that shared experience caregiving.

“I don’t know if it’s a guy thing or it’s just the situation of taking care of your parents,” explained Bobby who cared for his mother for ten years. “It’s like you don’t understand until you’re in the position.”

Bobby first met Mark while volunteering at their local temple, and it was Mark who introduced Bobby to his longtime friend Larry. Soon enough, the three became close after learning they were all caring for their mothers.

During an interview with Keiro, the three friends shared stories about their mothers, like how Bobby’s mother befriended everyone.

“My mom had a good attitude and so we were always joking around, having a good time,” Bobby explained. The two would go to the local 99 Cents store where he would find his mother talking to large and intimidating people. “You see these guys with tear drop tattoos on their eyes, laughing with my mom. She could talk to anyone.”

Larry who was caring for his mother with dementia remembered how kind and patient she was.

“My mom was very polite and she’d sit at the dining table at four in the morning and not wake me up,” Larry said. He added that when caregivers would prepare meals for her, she wouldn’t eat very much but “then I’ll cook for her and she’ll eat a lot. She had a good appetite and she ate very well–lots of vegetables.”

Over the years, all three men exchanged the moments and triumphs that came from caring for a parent.

“I talked to Bob about my mom on how things are working out and it was very helpful,” Mark said. “Other than that –guys don’t really talk a lot.”

After Caregiving and the Support Network

Today, all three are retired and are no longer caring for their mothers but are still trying to regain a sense of rhythm in their lives.

“You get into that routine. The transition can be tough,” Larry said. “Mine was basically two years and I’m still not back into my normal routine. I still wake up at 5 o’clock usually.”

And while things are still in transition, Larry added that he’s kept busy with new projects. All three men continue to reach out and connect with one another.

Both Mark and Larry agreed, adding that they now fill their time volunteering, traveling, and catching up with old friends.

“You know these two gentleman were very supportive of me,” Mark said.

And while each of their lives have been changed by caregiving for a loved one, they were able to come out of the experience with a strong friendship.

Male or female, that support network and just being able to talk to someone who understands is vital for any family caregiver.

Links to Sources Sited on this Article

2015 Caregiver Report: Caregiving in the U.S.

Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care

The Hidden Male Caregiver

American Journal on Men’s Health
The Male Face of Caregiving: A Scoping Review of Men Caring for a Person With Dementia

National Center for Biotechnology Information
Meeting the Needs of Male Caregivers by Increasing Access to Accountable Care Organizations

The Journal of Mens Studies
Men Doing “Women’s Work:” Elderly Men Caregivers and the Gendered Construction of Care Work