August 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Male caregiver’s ranks boosted by well spouses

by Carol Bursack

Books have been written, articles published and columns run in newspapers with statistics that show women are the ones who step up to the plate as caregivers. While the numbers of female caregivers still outrank male caregivers, I would guess that the caregiver gender divide is much less marked when it comes to well spouses.

As a columnist, forum moderator and author on caregiving, I hear from many male caregivers. Some are elderly men who are tossed into the caregiving role when their spouse develops Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Others, however, are younger men whose wives have contracted cancer, MS or another major illness. Still others have younger wives with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Not everyone is meant to be a caregiver

Not all men are cut out to be spousal caregivers–but neither are all women.

Many loving people, male and female, don’t have it in them to be a caregiver. My uncle was an example. He was a victim of repeated strokes and couldn’t have done much to help my aunt, had she lingered with her cancer. All care would have had to be provided by other family members or hired help. My aunt died so quickly after diagnosis that my theory never had a chance to prove out, but that’s my feeling.

It wasn’t only my uncle’s strokes that would have prevented him from being a good caregiver to my aunt. He had loved her throughout their 60+ years of marriage. They never had children, though they were wonderful as an aunt and uncle to my siblings and me. However, the ongoing selflessness required of most hands-on caregivers is something I don’t think he’d ever possessed. I’m not judging him or others who don’t have it in them to provide hands-on caregiving. That he would have made sure my aunt was well cared for, I know.

However, the simple fact is that he wasn’t put together to be a personal caregiver.

Striking a caregiving balance

Finding a happy medium between total immersion in caregiving and not being able to give is paramount.

While my parents were in a local nursing home, I visited daily. During this time, I saw scores of devoted husbands who gave their lives to volunteering at the nursing home to fill the time when they weren’t required at their mate’s side. Often, after their wives died, they continued to go back to the nursing home to help others by pushing people in their wheelchairs to the dining room for dinner or to view entertainment in the afternoon. These men were ready servants for whatever was needed by the staff. They were caregivers at heart, and the loss of their mate didn’t take away this attribute.

Are many men capable of stepping up to the plate as primary caregivers to their spouses? Absolutely. My emails and other contacts have shown this to be an indisputable fact. One place spousal caregivers of both genders find support is the Well Spouse Association, so many men will find support from peers there.

Keep it up, guys. You’re doing a fine job!

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