The family caregiver has typically been a woman, but it is no longer atypical when that role is performed by a man.
In 2001, a study by the Family Caregiver Alliance estimated that as few as 25 percent of caregivers were men. By 2009, an AARP study put the number of male caregivers at 40 percent. Now, a new Pew survey found that as many as 45 percent of caregivers are men.
"The numbers are growing," says Shirley Poll, the New York State representative for the National Family Caregivers Association. Poll says most of those reaching out to her for advice recently have been men. "This year, I have seen such a change in males asking for help, asking for support, asking where to go," she says.
The rise in male caregivers also has been noticed by Gary Barg, editor in chief of Today's Caregiver, a Florida-based bimonthly magazine. Barg has been holding caregiver conferences around the country since 1998 and has seen the number of men at his events grow from about 20 percent to more than 40 percent today.
Also changing, although more slowly, are men's roles in how they care for their elderly parents or sick spouse. Most men still prefer to be what Barg calls "caregiver CEOs," handling the financial aspects of their loved ones' affairs and quarterbacking a team of family members and health-care professionals who do the hands-on caring. But more and more, Barg notices that men are doing the day-to-day chores of caring for a sick loved one.
With the added responsibility comes added frustrations often caused by, well, maleness. "The men seem to fight with the doctors. The women don't seem to do that as much," Poll says. Barg agrees, noting that women seem to be able to get their way by being less aggressive but just as assertive. "I think women are better at working the system," he says.
Poll and Barg say men may be more prone to caregiver burnout because they are less likely to reach out for support. "The greatest challenge with male caregivers is we want to go it alone," says Barg, whose website (caregiver.com) includes lots of free resources for all caregivers as well as support aimed at men.
"This is not getting lost on the freeway and not wanting to ask for directions," Barg says. "This is something where you need directions, and you need support."