When Eric Epstein, 56, a lawyer from New York, learned that his 83-year-old father, Bill, had fractured his right hip while vacationing in Utah, he was on the next plane. “I wanted to make sure he was getting quality care in an unfamiliar hospital,” Epstein recalls. When the doctors determined a few days later that Bill would need a second surgery, Eric was instrumental in booking the return flights to New York, arranging for transportation, wheeling his 6-foot 4-inch, 250-pound father onto the plane, and transferring him carefully from the wheelchair to his seat.
Now that Eric’s father is recovering at a nearby rehab facility, Eric visits at least four days a week (often after a long day at work) to check on his progress, and will help his mother to prepare their apartment when Bill gets the green light to return home in a few weeks.
Eric is one of 16 million male family caregivers in the U.S. Like their female counterparts, male caregivers are often called upon to perform a range of tasks — from managing finances and grocery shopping to housework and meal prep as well as challenging medical and nursing tasks.
When I hear Eric’s story — and when the AARP Public Policy Institute releases research on this important topic — I’m struck by the fact that the male population traditionally isn’t recognized for performing caregiving tasks. Yet there are many male caregivers, and they’re rising to the challenge.
Leading the Way on Male Caregiver Research
Until recently, not much research was available that examined the impact of caregiving on male family caregivers, whether they’re caring for a parent, spouse, other relative, or even a neighbor or friend (also included in the term family caregiver). It’s a topic I’ve long wanted the Public Policy Institute to explore, so that’s what we’ve done. In March we released a report by my colleague Jean Accius, “Breaking Stereotypes: Spotlight on Male Family Caregivers,” that provides current information about the experiences and challenges facing this important segment of our health care system. A major takeaway from the report is that, contrary to many people’s assumptions, men represent 4 in 10 family caregivers.
Since the report’s release, Jean, who serves as VP of livable communities and long-term services and supports for the AARP Public Policy Institute, has become a go-to source on the topic for media outlets including Forbes and ESPN’s The Undefeated. And, of course, he’s blogged on the topic for our website.
One statistic that jumped out at me from the research is that nearly two-thirds of male family caregivers indicated that their caregiving experience was stressful, both physically and mentally. Male caregivers also are less likely than women to seek external support to deal with this stress.
Support Is Available
To help alleviate the stress and get the word out that support is available, we produced a series of videos specifically targeted at the male caregiving community. Two of the videos focus on support groups in various communities that help men realize they’re not alone in their day-to-day struggles to care for loved ones.
With Father’s Day coming this weekend, I hope you’ll take the time to acknowledge any male caregivers in your life, and perhaps offer to take a task or two off of their plates. Running an errand on a relative or friend’s behalf may not seem as significant as a necktie or a set of golf clubs. But chances are, he’ll appreciate the effort as much as any gift you could buy.
Are you a male caregiver, or do you live with one? If so, please share how you (or he) keep(s) stress at bay. I would love to share your tips in a later post.