Friday, July 9, 2010

Men as Caregivers ...

When we think of family caregiving, we often think of women providing the care but in fact, men make up more than 30% of all family caregivers and, in some care contexts, provide the bulk of the care. (For example, 40-53% of all primary caregivers to people with AIDS in the United States are relatively young males. And often, fathers must take on more caregiving responsibilities as their children with disabilities grow older and are harder to manage physically.) How do these men experience caregiving and what are their support needs?

Although originally thought to be less negatively affected by their caregiving responsibilities than women, more recent studies have shown that men who are caregivers experience similar caregiving "burden" to women, similar levels of depression, and higher levels of hostility and work-family conflict. As well, brothers caring for parents experience as much stress and emotional strain as sisters but seem to have more difficulty combining work and family responsibilities. Men also tend to be castigated in the caregiving literature for being more likely to "abandon" their care recipients through separation or divorce but in many cases are tenaciously loyal and persistent in their care.

Now, while I personally tend to think that the differences in caregivers and caregiving have more to do with individual personality, history and experience than gender differences, there is research to say that some male caregivers may need:

1. More opportunities to share their feelings and experiences with other men. (There is a tendency for men to accumulate more acquaintances than confidants and thus to have less opportunity to share their experiences.)

2. The availability of formal respite care services during extended caregiving as their male support system is less likely to offer informal respite.

3. Skill-based educational opportunities - bathing, cooking, laundry, etc.

4. Normalization of and relief from the stigma (internal or external) of doing "women's work".

5. Support in communicating their own needs and feelings within the caring relationship.

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