Caregiving Beyond Gender: The Male Caregiver Experience

When we picture a family caregiver, a man rarely comes to mind.  In fact, a recent study found that 40% of the 40 million caregivers in the US are men who provide loving, reliable care for their family members and loved ones.

Many male caregivers choose to deal with the burdens and stressors of caregiving alone, but they need support just as much as their female counterparts. Stereotypes and conventional views of caregiver roles can affect how a man may approach caring for someone and practicing self-care to stay physically and mentally well.

It cannot be said often enough, each caregiver, no matter if they are a man or woman, is unique in the way that they provide care. Every one of them needs and deserves support.

There are a variety of reasons why being a caregiver to elderly parents can present unique challenges for men.

Gender Stereotypes and Societal Conventions

Social conventions are “arbitrary rules and norms governing” our everyday behaviors. We hold certain beliefs without thinking about them or whether they are necessarily true or untrue. We simply accept these beliefs as being true because our society accepts these subjective rules the society has created over time.

As mentioned above, society has traditionally viewed men’s and women’s roles very differently. Consider these traditional societal beliefs that still hold true in many cultures:

  • A man’s role in the family was as The Provider and Protector. His masculinity is earned by working hard at a job in a paid position and measured by the amount of money taken home.
  • The woman’s role included dealing with the emotional needs of the family,

Running the household and performing caregiver responsibilities.

The views of traditional gender roles and stereotypes affect how male family caregivers manage the physical, emotional, and financial burdens of caregiving. They make it more difficult for men to take on this role or even identify themselves as caregivers without feeling like they are deviating from traditional gender norms.

Work-Life Balance

The struggle to balance paid work with unpaid caregiving responsibilities is reported by men as one of their biggest pain points, particularly if they are the primary breadwinners in their families.

On average, women provide 22 hours of unpaid care per week, while men provide 18 hours of unpaid care per week. However, studies show men working full-time job outside are less inclined to cut back on work hours than women while caring for a loved one or family member. They may feel they are not fulfilling their responsibilities as the “man of the house” if they are not working a paid position.

Physical Demands

Men tend to be more task-oriented when providing care than most women and often view caregiving as solving problems to achieve specific goals. They are more likely to help with arranging care, helping with finances, and other less burdensome tasks.

Caring for elderly parents, however, can be physically demanding, particularly if they have mobility issues or other health problems that require assistance with daily activities. Men may find this especially challenging if they are not used to providing physical care. Surveys report men are most uncomfortable providing personal care responsibilities such as bathing, assisting with going to the bathroom and dressing and are more likely to hire someone to help with those activities.

Emotional Challenges

Many men report they are less likely to talk to someone when they feel overwhelmed or stressed. Part of this reluctance could go back to societal norms, stereotypes, and culturally accepted views of what is masculine versus what is feminine.

Caring for an elderly parent can be emotionally challenging, particularly if they have dementia or other cognitive impairments that can make communication difficult. Men may struggle to express their emotions or to feel comfortable providing emotional support to their parents.

Lack of Support

All caregivers deserve and need support as they provide care for a family member.

Men may find it difficult to ask for help or find help because most support for caregivers is designed for women and how they provide care. As a result, men’s contributions as long-term caregivers may be significantly underestimated.

  • Approximately 62% of men report moderate to very stressful experiences as caregivers, and 46% report moderate to severe physical strain. Individuals caring for a parent report the highest financial and emotional strain levels and view personal care as the most challenging part of a caregiver’s job.
  • Men may not always be treated with the same respect or taken seriously by medical professionals, employers, and social service agencies when they take on the role of a caregiver.
  • Men are less likely to seek caregiver support because of the social stigma that may come by admitting the level of the burden they experience when caring for a family member. Additionally, comparatively weak emotional support systems mean men are less likely to ask for or look for support or help.

Stereotypes do not apply to all male caregivers, but the caregiver burden applies the same for unpaid caregiving regardless of the gender of the person providing the care. Therefore, it is essential when providing caregiver support that we do not reinforce stereotypes or imply that women need more or less support than men when filling a caregiver role.

The Burdens of Being a Caregiver Impact Both Male and Female Caregivers

Regardless of a caregiver’s gender, the physical and emotional demands are the same because the needs of their loved one needing care will be the same. When we cut through the societal norms and stereotypes, the caregivers provide care based on their unique attributes and the needs of the person receiving care.

Both male and female caregivers share the physical, emotional, and financial burdens of caregiving. Caregivers report that they felt they had no choice but to become a caregiver for a spouse, parent, or other family members. They also report that they have more health issues, emotional stress, and burdens than non-caregivers, regardless of gender. The negative impact of suffering alone and failing to seek support increases stress levels and can negatively impact the physical health and emotional well-being of any caregiver, regardless of gender. It's important to seek out support and resources for help to navigate through challenges and find ways to care for their parents while also taking care of themselves.

Tips and Suggestions for Seeking Support

To care for a loved one, you must take care of yourself and have a strong support system. Tips and suggestions for support and self-care include:

  • Consider using teletherapy sessions to maintain your emotional and physical health so that you do not need to leave your loved one to go to an appointment. Behavioral health services, including online therapy, may also benefit your parent and is covered by Medicare.
  • Hire part-time in-home help with caregiving tasks and household chores, so you have time to yourself.
  • Join a support group online or in person. Some groups are designed and support men only to give them specific support and a place to discuss challenges and burdens openly with other men.
  • Seek respite care when you need a break.
  • Accept help and ask for help from family members and friends.
  • Reach out to your family member’s physicians to inquire about help and support for caregivers.
  • Contact local social services and other agencies to discuss the various forms of support available for you and your loved one.

Lastly, embrace technology. There are services and devices available that can make a caregiver’s job more manageable and less stressful. If your loved one needs support and care but does not require you to be with them all the time, advances in remote monitoring have made it possible for family members to share caregiving responsibilities for elderly parents.

Livindi Home, from Livindi, includes sensors that are placed in specific areas of the home that collect data about a loved one’s environment, activity, typical behaviors and other health information. Artificial intelligence uses the data to determine their unique typical patterns. If there are any changes to the patterns, Livindi sends notifications to caregivers and family members. Reports from the data can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere through the helper app. Your loved one can press the alert button, and Livindi calls all listed caregivers until someone from the care team answers. The Livindi tablet is secure and HIPPA compliant and may also be used for telehealth appointments with Doctors’ visits and therapy sessions. This is especially helpful if transportation or availability of local medical professionals is an issue.

Livindi can help you set up a system that allows you to provide the level of care your family member needs without being with them full-time. Give us a call at (508) 416-6030. We can help by listening to what your needs are and making product recommendations that will address your unique caregiving challenges.