DIMENSIONS Summer 2002

Men Need Extra Help When They Become Caregivers

by Bob DeBuhr

Note: Each issue of Dimensions features a con-tribution from one of the Alzheimer's groups in Wash-ington. This article is reprinted with permission from the Alzheimer's Association - Western and Central Washington Chapter.

Women are better qualified to serve as caregivers than most men are. They have cared for our children and us for years. They know how to prepare a meal, clean the house, do the laundry, make the beds, wash the dog and do a myriad of other things men are happy to let them do.

Men, on the other hand, are content to be the protector, provider, plumber, electrician, mechanic and yardman. Should anything happen to the male spouse, the female spouse finds it relatively simple to become Mrs. Fixit and wonder why her husband had made such a big deal of it.

Most women have a network of friends and acquaintances they can confide in or call on for support. A man may only have the friend he fishes or plays golf with. His chief confidante, friend and lover has been his wife. When the wife can no longer perform her partnership responsibilities due to a terminal illness or injury, the male partner is pressed into the role of woman of the house and quite often becomes the full-time, in- home care provider in a sort of a double whammy.

The male spouse is usually ill prepared to deal with the demands and frustrations that come with the job. Even getting someone out of a bathtub can be devastating. This is where members of a support group can help. They can't all crowd into your bathroom but they can tell you where to get help and other ways to bathe the patient. They can provide answers to other problems and help to avoid caregiver burnout. Participation can make the caregiver's job less exasperating and the care recipient's life less agitated.

Just having someone to talk to is worth the effort it takes to get to a support meeting. Trying to discuss current events with a dementia patient can be as hopeless as betting on the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl. The biggest favor you can do for yourself, your family and patient is to learn everything you can about Alzheimer's, if that is what your loved one has been diagnosed as having, and make a realistic plan for the future. Begin now by arranging for someone to stay with your loved one while you attend one of the support meetings.

When enough men participate in the current support groups, a men's discussion group will be formed. Knowing that other men have found themselves face-to-face with similar problems and concerns and have found ways to handle those problems with ingenuity, patience, humor and persistence can make a big difference in a person's own ability to cope.

Others who should consider attending support meetings are those who may be faced with having to care for a dementia patient in the years ahead. With more people living to age 80 or better, more will have Alzheimer's or some other terminal illness.

Bob DeBurh is a support group facilitator. Please call the Alzheimer's Association at (206) 363-5500 or (800) 848-7097 if you would like to find out about the support groups in your area or other useful information about Alzheimer's disease.


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