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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Caregiving: Men Charting Unfamiliar Territory

In a role traditionally taken on by women, a growing number of men are charting unfamiliar territory and becoming primary caregivers for their wives or elderly parents.

Whether their loved has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis or a stroke, male caregivers often find their new role to be overwhelming and all consuming. Most men have grown up in a family and certainly a culture, in which females have been perceived and often expected to be the primary family caretaker. Yet often by necessity, more men than ever are rolling up their sleeves and helping their family members with day to day tasks such as preparing meals, cleaning the home, managing medications and bathing.

Here are four physical and emotional tips to support your male caregiver:
1) Recognize the emotions you are feeling - Being thrown into the role of caregiver for the first time can be overwhelming and stressful. Sometimes you may feel guilty because you think you are not doing enough and then you are frustrated because you cannot fix the situation. The stress is not only the result of the situation but the perception of it as well. It is important to know and remember you are not alone.

Steps to take: Start by identifying the source of stress. Maybe it is too much to do, feeling inadequate to deal with the disease or family disagreements over care.
Second, talk to someone who is in the same situation as yourself, a family friend, a professional or even a support group. Third use your sense of humor. Tell silly appropriate jokes or old funny stories. Laughter is good for you and relieves stress. Last, learn some stress reducing techniques and try to put them into your day. Activities such as walking, gardening and having a cup of coffee with an old friend can help relieve stress.

2) Ask for and accept help. Asking for and accepting help does not make you weak. It makes you stronger. When one is able to delegate tasks to others it gives you a chance to relax and decreases your stress.

Some steps you can take are create a list of all the tasks that need to be done in one week. Once you finish the list you will be tired just from looking at it. You will find that you are trying to accomplish the work that 2 people used to do. Second recognize that asking for help is sign of strength. A sign that you have a grasp on the situation and that will help you feel more in control of it making it seem less stressful. Third, when a family member or neighbor offers to help, take them up on it. Ask the person if there is anything in particular he or she might like to do to help you and let the person do it.

3) You have to take care of your own health - you can't take care of anyone if you don't care for yourself. Often caregivers end up being depressed, tired, lose weight and have health problems. This is the result of the stress and the constant attention paid to the person you are caring for.

Steps to take to maintain your own health are: get enough sleep, eat nutritionally, work exercise into your routine somehow and last make sure you take a break. If you are caring for someone with memory impairment you must take a break. Memory impaired clients tend to repeat stories and ask the same question over and over. If you are in this situation, you need a break.

4) Learn to balance caregiving with other responsibilities - some male caregivers are still working and trying to care for their spouse. If this is the case, you need to take some basic steps to start to balance your life.

First you have to decide whether to tell your supervisor at work about your situation. The positive side of this is your supervisor may be in a similar situation and have full compassion for you and understand if there are days when you need to leave early or change your schedule. The negative side is your supervisor may not understand and may feel you are taking too much time off and not focused on your work. Second think about getting someone, a neighbor, family member, hired help in to check on your loved one while you are away. Third make safety changes in your home if necessary. If you have a spouse that should not be using the stove while you are away, you can purchase safety covers that are used for children that will prevent anyone from turning a burner on. Third you need to start thinking about the future and how you might deal with changes of the disease and your job. There may come a time when your loved cannot be left alone at home. Having someone come in to check on your loved early in the process gets you and your loved one used to it and if the disease progresses it is already in place.

Being a male caregiver can be exhausting and overwhelming. I hope these tips can help you.
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