You’ve read the articles and heard the discussions about how difficult it is these days for family caregivers – those spouses and adult children who are responsible for the daily care of a loved one in declining physical or mental health. Most of those discussions seem to assume that most caregivers are wives and daughters. So it may surprise you, as it surprised us, to learn that 16 million unpaid caregivers in America aren’t wives and daughters, but husbands and sons. An estimated 40 percent of the 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. are men.
The implications of this shift are significant, which is why we suggest you read this highly informative article from the website NextAvenue. The article talks about an advertising campaign produced by the AARP and the Ad Council showing famous tough guy actors who in real life have served as caregivers to their aging mothers. Stars including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Patrick Dempsey and Henry “The Fonz” Winkler have appeared in these stereotype-defying video spots describing how being a real-life caregiver was the toughest role of their careers. The goal of these spots is to let the public know that the life-changing burdens of taking care of loved ones are being experienced by a growing number of men – and that providing support to those male caregivers presents a unique set of challenges.
According to the AARP, the growth in the percentage of male caregivers “reflects the changing demographics in our country, shrinking family sizes and an evolution of gender roles.” In the words of the NextAvenue article, “Just as more men have increasingly become primary caregivers for children as their wives assume the family breadwinner role, now they are also becoming primary family caregivers for an aging or ill loved one.” But the stereotype that caregivers are almost all women persists, which means men get too little recognition, support and training for their caregiving role.
In the past, whenever people thought about male caregivers, they usually envisioned those men filling what might be considered “typical” male roles: helping with finances, driving loved ones to doctor’s appointments, handling a loved one’s yard work and shoveling a snowy driveway. But this is far from the case these days. “Caregiving crosses gender lines,” says the AARP in a report issued last March. “Today (these men) are performing tasks that help their loved one with activities of daily living — bathing, grooming, feeding.” In other words, they’re serving in much the same way as their female counterparts.
But experts are discovering that providing training and guidance to men isn’t the same as providing that assistance to women. In 2012 an international home care agency called Homewatch Caregivers started the first online support community for male caregivers. But four years later “they found men did not want to share their experiences and talk to other men online,” writes NextAvenue. Instead of emotional support, these male caregivers needed more practical help, learning how to manage caregiving tasks and how to find community resources. As a spokesperson for Homewatch Caregivers said, “What we found is that caregiving was not a discussion they wanted to have ‘over the virtual fence’ with other men.”
It turns out that the kind of support men were asking for was information specific to their loved one’s condition — whether it was Parkinson’s disease, cancer or multiple sclerosis. To meet this need, Homewatch Caregivers has worked with various organizations to provide disease-specific videos and training materials. Because male caregivers said they felt unprepared for some of the tasks they would be called upon to perform, AARP has also created educational videos to help train all caregivers, especially men. “Over half of the men in the study were helping with what we would term ‘nursing care,’ such as wound care — but they were not prepared to do so,” explained the AARP. “This is a common thing we see with all caregivers, but the request for more training was higher for men.”
“Caregiving has long been seen as a role women take on — wives, adult daughters and sisters,” writes NextAvenue. “But now that two out of five caregivers are men, it was important to demonstrate that more men are playing this role.” In the new celebrity video spots, being a caregiver is depicted in a manner analogous to “being a warrior” in the battle for a healthier society and stronger family. But if there’s a warning in this article, it’s a warning to male caregivers not to try to go it alone. “Although most male caregivers agree that caregiving is stressful,” says one of the creators of the video spots, “very few reach out for help; they often avoid talking about their situation with others and don’t feel comfortable discussing the emotional challenges of caregiving.” The bottom line: “Caregiving is a tough job, but AARP can help you be prepared.”
Speaking of preparation, what about being prepared for your retirement? Do you feel prepared for decisions you’ll need to be making in the years ahead? Trying to retire without a plan is like trying to sail around the world without a chart – you’ll quickly lose your bearings, make bad decisions and never reach your destination. And don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on finances. Too many seniors think a financial plan alone will guide them, only to have their plans and dreams fall apart when a medical, legal or housing crisis looms. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a plan that takes into account all these elements? Thanks to AgingOptions, there is such a plan: a LifePlan. Your personalized AgingOptions LifePlan blends financial, legal, housing and medical plans into a seamless whole. It also helps you communicate your wishes to your family, in order to make certain they will support those wishes. It’s truly a revolutionary approach to retirement planning.
We encourage you to find out more by attending an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. These popular events are offered throughout the area, at no cost. Invest a few hours and you’ll come away with a fresh new perspective on planning for your future. Choose your seminar here and register online, or contact us for assistance during the week. We’ll look forward to seeing you soon.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)