When Eric Epstein, 56, a lawyer from New York City, learned that his 83-year-old father, Bill, had fractured his right hip while vacationing in Utah, he was on the next plane. “I wanted to make sure he was getting quality care in an unfamiliar hospital,” Epstein recalls. When the doctors determined a few days later that Bill would need a second surgery, Eric was instrumental in booking the return flights to NYC, arranging for transportation, wheeling his 6’4”, 250-pound father onto the plane, and transferring him carefully from the wheelchair to his seat.
Now that Eric’s father is recovering at a nearby rehab facility, Eric visits at least four days a week (often after a long day at work) to check on his progress, and will help prepare his mother to prepare their apartment when Bill gets the green light to return home in a few weeks.
Eric is one of 16 million male family caregivers in the U.S. Like their female counterparts, male caregivers are often called upon to perform a range of tasks—from managing finances and grocery shopping to housework and meal prep as well as challenging medical and nursing tasks.
When I hear Eric’s story—and when the AARP Public Policy Institute releases research on this important topic—I’m struck by the fact that the male population traditionally isn’t recognized for performing caregiving tasks. Yet there are many of them, and they’re rising to the challenge.
Leading the Way on Male Caregiver Research
Until recently, not much research was available that examined the impact of caregiving on male family caregivers, whether they’re caring for a parent, spouse, other relative, or even a neighbor or friend (also included in the term family caregiver). It’s a topic I’ve long wanted the Public Policy Institute to explore, so that’s what we’ve done. In March we released a report by my colleague Jean Accius, PhD, “Breaking Stereotypes: Spotlight on Male Family Caregivers,” that provides current information about the experiences and challenges facing this important segment of our health care system. A major takeaway from the report is that, contrary to many people’s assumptions, men represent four in 10 family caregivers.
Since the report’s release, Jean, who serves as VP of livable communities and long-term services and supports for the AARP Public Policy Institute, has become a go-to source on the topic for media outlets including Forbes and ESPN’s The Undefeated. And, of course, he’s blogged on the topic for our website.
One statistic that jumped out at me from the research is that nearly two-thirds of male family caregivers indicated that their caregiving experience was stressful, both physically and mentally. Male caregivers also are less likely than women to seek external support to deal with this stress.
Support Is Available
To help alleviate the stress and get the word out that support is available, we produced a series of videos, specifically targeted at the male caregiving community. Two of the videos focus on support groups in various communities that help men realize they’re not alone in their day-to-day struggles to care for loved ones.
With Father’s Day coming this weekend, I hope you’ll take the time to acknowledge any male caregivers in your life, and perhaps offer to take a task or two off of their plates. Running an errand on a relative or friend’s behalf may not seem as significant as a necktie or a set of golf clubs. But chances are, he’ll appreciate the effort as much as any gift you could buy.
Are you a male caregiver, or do you live with one? If so, please share how you (or he) keep(s) stress at bay. I would love to share your tips in a later post.
A couple of weeks back, we unveiled our new caregiving ad – starring a unique caregiver. You may recognize him as the antihero from Machete or Breaking Bad, but you would never assume he’s just like you. That’s right, actor Danny Trejo is a caregiver and he is showing just how tough male caregivers are.
Although the typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman, there is a silent army of husbands, brothers, sons and friends – about 16 million– caring for their spouses, parents and other loved ones.
As family sizes shrink and the population ages, the number of male caregivers is only expected to rise, but they are often ignored in the caregiving conversation.
AARP, in conjunction with, the Ad Council is spotlighting this overlooked group through its new PSA campaign. The ad features Trejo performing the tough guy feats he is known for in films, alongside the everyday tough jobs a typical caregiver performs.
AARP’s new data profile on male caregivers shares insights on the level and type of care men provide, the challenges they face and more. Some of the key findings include:
- More than half of male caregivers (63%) are the primary caregiver for their loved one.
- Male family caregivers are helping their loved ones with personal care activities and more than half (54%) of male family caregivers perform medical and nursing tasks, such as injections, tube feedings, and wound care.
- Many men say they feel unprepared for these tasks and express discomfort providing intimate personal care (e.g. bathing, dressing, toileting).
- Men are less likely than women to reach out for help and feel uncomfortable discussing the emotional challenges of caregiving.
- More than one-third (37%) of male caregivers don’t tell their employers that they are juggling caregiving responsibilities at home.
In addition, AARP sharing stories of men rising to the challenge and offering their lesson’s learned with others.
Caregivers can find helpful tools, like the Prepare to Care guides and more at aarp.org/caregiving.
Photo courtesy of iStock
Being a family caregiver—that is, providing unpaid care to a parent, spouse, friend or other adult loved one—is hard work. It can also be rewarding work. The struggles, frustrations and stress associated with this caregiving journey cross gender lines. While the “typical” family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who takes care of a relative, 4 out of 10 caregivers are men.[i]
Men, often due to societal perceptions, have been less likely to talk about the emotional and economic challenges of caregiving. For example, a male family caregiver in a recent focus group summed it up well: “My dad taught me that men don’t cry. I don’t want to be crying on somebody’s shoulder.” From the playgrounds to the basketball court, from television images to song lyrics, the stereotypical drumbeat of manhood is reinforced: Man-up. Be strong. Men are not supposed to cry. Do these sentiments—sometimes spoken, sometimes implied—sound familiar?
Such beliefs can have a lasting impact on the individual who must decide whether to conform to or combat these societal perceptions. They also have implications for industries and workers like health professionals and other service providers, who may not understand the multidimensional role men are playing in what society typically views as predominantly a woman’s role.
The role of family caregiver is one example. There are 40 million family caregivers in the United States helping with everyday activities and personal tasks ranging from bathing, dressing, wound care, and medication management to transportation and finance and more.
A recent AARP Public Policy Institute report found that men represent 40 percent of all family caregivers; that’s 16 million male family caregivers.
A diverse group in many respects, these husbands, brothers, sons, sons-in-law, partners, friends, and neighbors are joining—either by choice, obligation, or necessity—the army of family caregivers providing care across the country. They are breaking stereotypes and misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, male family caregivers are not just managing finances or helping with housework. They are also assisting with dressing, bathing, and toileting as well as performing medical and nursing tasks such as injections, tube feedings and wound care.
Many men feel unprepared or uncomfortable taking on these tasks. Although most male caregivers agree that caregiving is stressful, 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.
In many cases, male family caregivers are caring for a spouse or partner. The PPI report shows that spousal caregivers in general face unique challenges, in part because they may lack an adequate support network.
However, there were differences between males caring for a spouse and those caring for a parent.
- They provide more hours of care, and are more likely to be primary caregivers with little to no support from other family members, compared to male family caregivers taking care of a parent or other relative.
- Men caring for a spouse reported having been a caregiver for a longer period of time than other unpaid male family caregivers (5.1 years compared to 3.9).
Caregiving is not easy for any caregiver, men included. A recently released series of videos highlight the unique experiences of male caregivers: a millennial caring for his wife and their young daughter, a partner sharing the challenges and triumphs of caring for a terminally ill partner, a traditional-style support group for African-American male family caregivers, and an organization that support a group of male family caregivers of partners with a terminal illness.
By seeing and then understanding these diverse experiences, challenges, and needs, we can develop tools and resources to meet this sizable and growing group of family caregivers where they are. Caregiving is an issue where men and women can work together to support one another along this important yet challenging path.
Jean Accius is vice president of livable communities and long-term services and supports for the AARP Public Policy Institute. He works on Medicaid and long-term care issues.