LeBlanc: Male caregivers in today’s world

Since the beginning of time, women traditionally have been the caregivers of elderly family members, ill spouses, neighbors, etc. But a change is beginning to take place; more and more men are rolling up their sleeves and taking their places among the women involved in this noble undertaking. Most of these dedicated men either are middle-aged or older. From what I can see, they are in it for the long haul, committing themselves to being there for others in need.

With massive numbers of baby boomers aging, more and more families are finding themselves members of what’s called “the sandwich generation.” These are folks caught between growing children and aging parents. Becoming a caregiver not only is an ethical thing to do, it also makes the most financial sense for many families.

Yes, times have changed. As I said, for generations women typically have been the caregivers for family members in need. This often was due to men being the primary breadwinners and women being at home and available. Now, however, caregiving duties can be divided according to work schedules and not gender.

Be sure to communicate ahead of time with employers. Explain the circumstances and what they may need to anticipate for the near future. Try to work out a plan that will satisfy everyone involved. (Retaining employment may not only be important because of financial matters but also medical insurance coverage and maybe even personal satisfaction.)

According to research — and my own experience — male caregivers are more likely to hold their emotions deep inside. By not opening up and talking about their feelings, stress can become a major factor. Normally, men also refrain from asking for help until it is far too late — kind of like never asking for directions until they are completely lost. I’m advising all male caregivers to open up, especially to doctors. Don’t let the stress and depression sneak up on you and tear you down. As a matter of fact, this goes for all caregivers no matter the gender.

I was my father’s “male” caregiver for 10 years. Even though he suffered and eventually passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, I always tried not to show weakness. I knew my father was counting on me and I never wanted to disappoint him. I felt as if my manhood was at stake. The bottom line here is that not everyone can do this job.

Don’t be ashamed if you can’t handle it. Ask for help! If you don’t, this could haunt you for the rest of your life and I’m sure that is not what your loved one would want for you. If you cannot deal with it, find someone who can, then dedicate yourself to be a supportive kinsman for the rest of his or her life.

Focus on the positive aspects of caregiving. Chiefly, I believe what kept me going was the companionship I shared with my dad. This may sound peculiar considering that throughout the last years of his life he hardly recognized who I was, but I will never regret the years that I spent with him. This was, no doubt, the most exceptional time of my life.

So, to my fellow male caregivers, these are the things you need to concentrate on: staying healthy, learning to ask for assistance, enjoying some sort of social life and, most of all, maintaining a positive attitude.

Like the Marines, let’s constantly cheer “Semper Fi,” meaning, “Always Faithful.”

For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth.net. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.

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