My friend’s elderly father provided years of home care to his wife before her advancing Alzheimer’s required an outside placement. Then, for several more years, he made daily trips to feed his wife and hold her hand at the nursing home. If you know a father or husband like this, then you know someone who deserves special recognition today.
Male caregivers have specific needs but many don’t like discussing the emotional aspects of their role in mixed-gender company. According to a poll done by AARP and NORC, men who are caring for spouses may also face more stress than other types of caregivers. Lynn Feinberg, a caregiving specialist at AARP, says that people caring for a spouse tend to get less help from family and friends — compared to adults caring for their parents. A second factor common to those caring for a spouse is their older age. According to the NORC poll, the average age of spousal caregivers is 67 — for parent caregivers it’s 58.
Back in 1999, men comprised less than 25% of caregivers. But a study on Caregiving in the USA done by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. found that today about 35% of caregivers are male. The increase in male caregivers has prompted a surge in the number of male caregivers attending support groups.
Some healthcare providers are planning ahead to design better support services for the growing number of men who will need them. In Florida, Hospice by the Sea is looking at the needs of male caregivers as part of research on workplace caregiving funded by United Healthcare. Their findings will provide the groundwork for developing more effective initiatives to support men.
We may wait years to find out what the social scientists have to say, so let’s do something today. Make it a point to send Father’s Day hugs to the valiant men you know. We’re in this together and, guys, you are very special!
Our tour of duty will come to an end one day. But new generations of caregivers will be asking the same questions: What’s the best medical treatment for dementia? How will we manage the financial cost of care? Is there help out there for caregivers and families? Some communities are developing service models that may help future caregivers find answers faster.
Minnesota is one state working to address its dementia care problems in a pro-active way. After the passage of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act in 2011, the state created a working group to recommend programs that could serve growing numbers of people with the disease. Like my home state of Pennsylvania, Minnesota is facing a demographic shift that will result in a much higher population of elderly residents. The number of Minnesotans over age 65 is expected to double by 2030 to comprise about 20% of the state population. As part of this trend, the number of Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients is expected to increase dramatically.
The Minnesota working group, which has evolved into a coalition called Act On Alzheimer’s, has been developing a toolkit to help communities become more “dementia capable.” According to this group, a “dementia capable community” is “informed, safe and respectful of individuals with the disease [and] their families and caregivers, and provides supportive options that foster quality of life.”
The main element of their strategy is the implementation of a program called the New York University Caregiver Intervention (NYUCI). This service model was developed to educate caregivers about dementia and involve other family members in supporting the main caregiver. It also provides caregivers with methods of dealing with the behavioral aspects of the disease. Services include two individual and four family counseling sessions, referrals to weekly support groups, and telephone counseling. Research on the effectiveness of the program showed improved levels of caregiver wellbeing and an estimated median delay of 557 days before permanent residential placement of the person with dementia.
According to research documented in an article by Steven S. Foldes and Kirsten Hall Long, the NYUCI model reduces medical costs (mainly by delaying residential care) and may save caregivers 1.3 hours of time spent on daily caregiving tasks. Since every state will take its own approach to dealing with dementia, you may want to do your own research on what’s happening where you live. But if you are interested in learning more about the NYUCI model, or how your community can become “dementia capable”, check out this YouTube video which explains more about this concept.
Caregivers have a million jobs already. But if we recruit others to get involved in improving our community’s response to the disease, the caregiver role may be easier for those who come behind us. Minnesota’s slogan is “Everyone can act on Alzheimer’s, starting with you.” So go ahead and nudge somebody.