It’s tricky to address gender differences without sounding sexist or provincial, but the fact is that men and women have their own approaches and preferences when it comes to caregiving. This is true whether it is an adult son who needs to help his parents, or the father who might need some help.
Let’s start with providing care for your father or husband or uncle or grandfather or brother. If you’ve already been a caregiver for your mom, wife, grandmother, or sister, you might think you can approach this exactly the same way. However, experts—and those who have done both types of caregiving—say that the key to success is recognizing the differences and then proceeding.
One AARP study found that 65% of care recipients are female and that the younger the care recipient is, the more likely it is too be male. They found that 45% of care recipients aged 18-45 are male, but 33% of recipients who are over age 50 are male.
WHY DOES HE NEED CARE?
Yes, it’s a well-known fact the women live longer than man and that can skew the numbers on who needs elder care. The chronic conditions and illnesses that impact men and women as they age can differ though:
Alzheimer’s disease: men have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease than women, but they are 8% more likely to wander (a known possible side effect of the disease) and 30% more likely to be combative.
Parkinson’s disease: men are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s than women.
Cancer: a National Cancer Institute study found that men are likely than women to die of cancer in the United States, though were was not a single cause.
WHAT DID YOU SAY?
Who’s getting older? Not me, say the men. Anecdotally, men—more so than women--tend to deny that they are aging or feeling more frail or in need of any assistance. This head-in-the-sand approach makes communicating about plans for care a distinct challenge.
Some do’s and don’ts when it comes to talking with the man in your life about care:
Don’t: “Dad, you just can’t do the things you enjoy anymore because you’re too old and frail.”
Do: Tell him you love him and would like to spend time doing some of his favorite activities together, including giving him a ride.
Don’t: “Hon, you need help!”
Do: Ask what this man would do if he were in your shoes and was concerned for your safety and worried about your future independence.
Don’t: Hide his car keys and say, “Haven’t seen ‘em!” when he tries to leave.
Do: Involve a third-party professional to do the talking, such as their primary health care provider, who can share data, check eyesight, and offer solutions such as moving to a place with alternative transportation.
The fact is that more women than men are family caregivers. Even though statistics show that more men than in previous generations are stepping up to be family caregivers, women remain the majority. This can lead to some awkward and some physically compromising situations.
Before you agree to be a sole caregiver, perhaps honoring someone’s wishes, consider that care needs change over time depending on chronic conditions, reactions to medications, and more. For example, a daughter may be committed to taking her Dad to the doctor occasionally, but not be prepared to help him in and out of the shower to get ready for those appointments.
Or, a wife may be doing all of the grocery shopping, meal prep, and housekeeping, but not be physically able to lift her husband out of their bed. A 2015 AARP report, “Caregiving in the U.S.” found that one in five caregivers “report a high level of physical strain as a result of their caregiving duties.”
When it comes to caring for a male loved one, the right caregiver(s) and approach to care will vary depending on individual personality, preferences and needs. Just keep in mind that your approach as an adult child, spouse or relative will need to be adapted to the fact that men in general respond differently than women do to accepting care.
MEN AT WORK: AS CAREGIVERS
Much like with family roles, women tend to make up the majority of professional caregivers. A 2021 report by the New America Foundation, found that people were more accepting of a male nurse than a male childcare provider. In fact, study participants noted that a man’s physical strength could be an asset in the nursing profession.
Yet when it came to identifying a man a care provider for a young child, one participant stated: “Because of stereotypes, I believe people do not expect to see men in such nurturing roles.”
However, the study participants did note that with proper training and skills, gender would make no difference in a caregiver. The Homewatch CareGivers University provides on-going training for caregivers (including some courses for family caregivers). Training like this can possibly decrease stigma around who should be a caregiver and open up more opportunities for men to choose caregiver jobs.
The New America Foundation report noted that, “Caring professions include some of the fastest growing jobs as society ages, and among the most future-proof jobs as care work is not easily replaced by technology or automation.”
FOR THE DADS
Read this blog by Lisa Shultz, author of “A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent,” in which she shares what kind of additional help she and her family needed to care for her father. This includes what it was like to handle someone very stubborn and refusing help.
We’ve made a new video that honors fathers, and research shows that it’s about time they were recognized as caregivers too. Take look and see if it resonates with you and your caregiving journey.