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50+: Live Better, Longer

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The Hardest Job a Man May Ever Have

Male Caregivers

Learning to Seek Help and Support

In his work with NFCA, Lindsley regularly speaks at caregiver conferences and conventions. Because MS "mostly hits women, many times men become the caregivers," yet in most instances the audience at these meetings "is usually women with very few men." To Lindsley that suggests that many male caregivers are struggling to cope by themselves without the benefit of a support group.

That doesn't surprise Miami-based Gary Barg, who has become a self-styled expert on caregiving.

While many male caregivers care for spouses and partners, Barg was introduced to caregiving when he moved to Florida in 1992 to help his mother take care of his grandparents. His grandfather had Alzheimer's disease and his grandmother had a variety of illnesses. Both were in and out of hospitals and nursing homes. Barg says that caregiving in those circumstances is "like hanging on to Jell-O."

But the experience led him to a new career: he and his mother publish a bimonthly caregivers magazine. He says that when he started his publication he estimated that about 15% of caregivers are men but now he thinks that it more likely that 20%-25% of caregivers are men.

Men, says Barg, often have a difficult time adjusting to the role, but he says it may be easier to be a caregiver for a partner or spouse than for a parent. "When it comes to changing diapers or bathing, it is very difficult for a man to visualize doing this for his mother," says Barg. But he says, too, that men are changing because society is changing. Younger men are more comfortable in nurturing roles than their fathers were.

"Being a caregiver is probably easier for a man who is 30 to 50 than it is for a 50- to 80-year-old man," he says.

But regardless of age, Barg thinks that men may be particularly vulnerable to the depression associated with the 24/7 job of caregiving. He says that even a cursory scan of chat rooms will turn up ample evidence of this.

Caregiving can be overwhelming, which can often trigger depression, says NFCA founder Suzanne Mintz. So it is especially important for caregivers -- both women and men -- to seek help, usually by arranging respite care, meaning a person who takes over for the caregiver for a specified number of hours. Respite care can be arranged through local or national agencies, and for those lucky enough to qualify, respite care is paid for by state or federal programs. In Duckett's case, the nurse from the local hospital helped him arrange for respite care "and eventually I qualified for 100 hours a month," he says.

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