Responsibilities shift for Alzheimer's caregivers

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The Alzheimer’s Association reports the number of women age 65 and older at risk of getting Alzheimer's disease in their lifetime is 1 in 6, compared with their male counter parts at 1 in 11.

This new information may shift caregiving responsibilities to men and affect those diagnosed.

The disease that affects more than 5 million lives in the U.S. takes a different toll on men. “Well, when a man has Alzheimer's disease one of the challenges is that he has to learn to give up control, and that's often very difficult. If you been used to making decisions, if you’ve been used to deciding how the money is spent, if you've been used to driving,” says Dr. Bill Haley of USF.

These are things you will no longer be able to do says Dr. Haley. That said, a woman's estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer's at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with men at nearly 1 in 11.

“It's becoming more and more prevalent for a man to be a caregiver, says Max Moore. At age 20, Moore found himself in the unlikely position of caregiver for both grandparents. His grandmother suffered a dementia. He says as caregivers, men are different. “In their world, they're alone in this, they can’t relate to their friend who they'll go out on the golf course with who is not in that situation,” says Moore.

Alan Silverglat cared for his mother for five years. He says it was emotionally challenging. “The person who had given birth to me and had given care to me, all of a sudden roles had reversed and it was difficult for both of us to accept.”

He says it greatly affected him. “To see my mom entering this end stage was difficult, so that just brought on all those emotions as well.”

Then there are emotional challenges of the physical part of caregiving. “For men, they often have to take on roles they're not accustomed to like bathing, dressing, feeding, taking over cooking and taking over housework,” says Haley.

These issues affecting male caregivers are what prompted Moore to start an Alzheimer's support group. “What's unique is, it's an all men's group, and there is not another all men's group in the area that I'm aware of.”

He says it’s a safe place for them to be with other men in the same situation. “The thing they have in common is they are caring for a female loved one. It could be their mother, it could be their wife, and they're alone.”

Men have another trait that makes caregiving hard. “I think that as a man I felt it was my job to fix things and Alzheimer's or Dementia is not something that can be fixed. You have to deal with it,” says Silverglat.

Professor Hayley says for some time, many older male spouses are becoming caregivers and we now recognize it more. We're more also likely to offer special support for male caregivers, because they do have to learn some different skills.