home that afternoon. But Helen’s
usual caregivers—two of Louis’s sisters—were not at home to watch her.
Nor were any of his other four siblings available. That day, for the first
time, Louis was solely in charge of his
mother’s care. He was terrified.
“I’m a social worker, trained and
working in the field for 30-some
years, but I was frightened to death,”
he says. “You don’t want to do any-
thing to hurt your loved one, and I
remember praying, ‘Oh, dear Lord,
please help me.’”
UCH FEAR IS NO T UN- usual, especially for men, says Brent Ridge, M.D., a ger- iatrician at Mount Sinai Hos- pital in New York City. Ridge often receives panicky calls from men
thrust into the caregiving role. The
CEO of a major publishing corpora-
tion once told him, “My father just had
a stroke, and my mother isn’t strong
enough to care for him. I have no idea
how to help them.”
No one feels comfortable in an
instant-caregiver role, says Ridge, yet
most adults will care for an aging loved
one at some point in their 40s, 50s, or
60s. The number of unpaid family care-
givers in the United States now tops 65
million, involving more than three in ten
households, according to “Caregiving in
the U.S. 2009,” a report conducted by the
National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC)
in collaboration with AARP, and funded
by the MetLife Foundation. Despite a
common stereotype that caregiving is
women’s work, one third of American
caregivers are men, the report reveals.
(For more on the survey, see “Caregiv-
ers’ Wish List,” page 86.)
The number of unpaid caregivers in the United States tops 65 million…
…and of those
caregivers are men.
the men who more frequently try to
hide emergency phone calls, doctors’
visits, and other workday distractions
that come with the role.
And men tend to approach the job
of caregiving differently from women,
I found. Most men who help care for
family members opt for long-distance
or executive tasks such as dealing with
insurance companies or lining up nurse
visits. Women caregivers, by contrast,
are more likely to do hands-on tasks.
The NAC/AARP study confirms this.
Though male and female caregivers
employ about the same amount of out-
side help— 35 percent used paid aides
during the course of a year—among
caregivers of people over 50, men are
more often the ones who arrange that
help. But men are only half as likely as
their sisters or wives to assist with the
more personal task of bathing. Men
who do shoulder the heart-wrenching
work of dressing and toileting a fam-
ily member are particularly reluctant
to talk about it. It isn’t seen as manly,
many told me.