1 in 9 Americans age 65 and older (11% of the population) has Alzheimer’s disease. It is also estimated that among people age 71 and older, 16% of women have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, compared with only 11% of men. Of the 5.2 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the United States, 3.2 million, or two-thirds, are women. The numbers translate to millions of men being left to care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia; the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving estimate that more than 6 million men, almost twice as many as 15 years ago, are caring for someone with those types of cognitive diseases.
As Director of Family and Community Services of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Jan Dougherty has seen the toll caring for family members with Alzheimer’s takes on loved ones. She characterizes the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s as a “life-altering experience for everyone impacted,” but she notes the distinct differences between male and female caregivers in “Recognizing Heroes at Home: Male Caregivers.”
1. Processing an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
Dougherty has seen women process an Alzheimer’s diagnosis on a more emotional level, while men process it more functionally. While women need to understand and cope with the diagnosis and what it means for all parties involved, men see the diagnosis as a problem and immediately try to find a solution.
2. Coping with the Stress of Caregiving
Men handle the stress of caregiving more easily than women. Women increase their stress levels by having constant worry and anxiety, but men can complete their caregiving tasks and move on.
3. Seeking Outside Help
Women tend to shoulder all of the responsibilities of caregiving, but men are more willing to call friends, family, and professionals for help. They quickly ask for resources and additional support.
4. Handling Daily Tasks
The women typically are more able to juggle the daily duties of a house – cooking and cleaning and laundry – with caregiving than men. Men have difficulty cooking and coordinating their wives’ clothing and makeup. Much of these issues stem from the generation of caregiver currently tending to loved ones; they come from the generation of traditional roles in marriage.
Male caregivers are not just caring for loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer’s, though. A 2012 analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that men represented as many as 45% of all family caregivers. Many of these male caregivers aid their parents and spouses. And, Sherri Snelling’s “The Rapid Rise of the Male Caregiver” points out that there are some benefits to having male caregivers: men often are more assertive when advocating for loved ones with doctors and hospital staff. They demand straight answers about the condition of their loved ones.
Male caregivers also take advantage of support groups, as evidenced by Ed Mitchell’s support group Men Who Care, at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and the number of online support groups for male caregivers.
Online Support Groups:
- Male Caregiver Community
- Family Care Navigator
- Family Caregiver Alliance – Online Support Groups
- Well Spouse Association – Online Support Groups
Overall, men are stepping up to take on caregiving roles in record-breaking numbers. They may not be considered “traditional” caregivers, but they are certainly just as dedicated and determined to provide loving care to their family members as female caregivers.
For Further Reading:
- Wear Comfortable Shoes by Peter Rosenberger, about the nearly three decades he’s spent caring for his wife after a serious automobile accident
- Who Says Men Don’t Care: A Man’s Guide to Balanced and Guilt-Free Caregiving by James V. Gambone, Ph.D and Rhonda W. Travland, M.S., a guide exclusively for men about the experiences of four generations of male caregivers