Join the Journey / Bob Elmer: Men play role of caregiver, too

Join the Journey / Bob Elmer: Men play role of caregiver, too


Columnist Bob Elmer | ( Jill Connor / The Westerly Sun )

I’m not a betting man, but I’ll place a wager on the fact that many of you that read today’s installment will find yourselves saying, “I didn’t know that.” The reason is todays topic is “Men as Caregivers.”

There’s no bias here, because the facts speak for themselves. So let’s begin with our first factoid, and that’s that 45 percent of Alzheimer’s at-home care providers are men.

I have to confess that even I was surprised at that figure. After all, in my more than 15 years of senior care management, probably 90 percent of the inquiry’s made were by women. In fact, many were the daughters-in-law of the afflicted family member, meaning it wasn’t her parent or grandparent she was asking for — it was her husband’s.

I recently attended a senior-care networking meeting, and of the 30 attendees, four were men. And when I recently lectured at a state university’s college of nursing, I spoke to about 100 students: 96 females and four males.

We’re in a time where more work is missed today because of elder care issues than child-care issues, and men are indeed carrying their share of the weight. But they face their own particular challenges.

First, women are always the one perceived as the nurturers (I can’t ever remember hearing someone say, “I want my daddy”).

Most information out there to help with caregiving is directed at women, and men don’t appear to have the network that women do. Unfortunately, men can also be their own worst enemies — many will admit that it’s hard for them to open up about their feelings and experiences, and they are less likely to admit to feeling stress or depression.

I should add that most men don’t feel quite as prepared as women do to assume the caregiving role. Ask yourself how comfortable any man would be providing his grandmother or mother “personal care”?

Another challenge that men have is that it appears they don’t get the same family support that women do. Even I had my doubts about this until I thought back to a couple of specific situations that were brought to my attention. I had received a telephone call from a gentleman that read an article mine on the subject of guilt, and he called to thank me because he found it very helpful. He shared that he had been caring for his wife and was getting no help from his children. Realizing that there was no way he could continue to help his wife without some assistance, he ended up divorcing his wife so his children had no choice but to get involved and help. I can hear many of you asking, “How could he do that?” Well, before you start name calling, please know he continued to provide her excellent care and address her needs, but now he had some much-needed help. In another situation, I was told of a man that had nailed windows and doors shut to keep his wife in the house. They were unable to control her behaviors with medication, so she was either unconscious from her meds or literally climbing the furniture. Dad was also afraid the “wrong people” would discover how ill his wife was and take her away from him. Sadly, the children were aware of what was happening, but for some reason they didn’t feel compelled to help.

Like every caregiver, men need to take advantage of the resources that are available to them. It appears that most men go to the Internet for their information, which is a great start. But they should use it to find support groups, qualified home-care agencies, adult day centers and specialists.

If you have any questions please email me and I’ll answer them directly or in a future column. And remember, “Join the Journey.”

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser, lecturer and Alzheimer’s care specialist. Email him with questions at Also, visit his website at “Join the Journey” refers to the caregiver having to join their loved one’s journey through Alzheimer’s dementia.

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