From Where I Sit  

Male Caregivers are at Risk
“There are four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” — former first lady Rosalynn Carter
by Dan Fish

The dry statistics confirm that of the 44 million caregivers in the United States more than 14 million are men. Many of my clients are the husband’s of women who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. And they tell me that they are shouldering the burden of care giving alone. They are usually men in their 70’s or 80’s.

Look In My Eyes

The first thing I do in a meeting with a new client is to look at his eyes. Most of my clients obviously have not been sleeping. This may be caused by being awakened innumerable times during the night or by the general anxiety of prolonged care giving.

I assess this stress level first because there is no way that I can possibly impart legal information to someone who is not able to concentrate due to sleep deprivation.

I also am concerned because current medical research has demonstrated that the caregiver is at an enormously increased risk of cardiac disease or stroke due to the stress of chronic care giving. In addition, they are more likely to suffer purely physical ailments from the task of helping a person with dementia out of bed or a bath tub.

My first meeting may be a recommendation that the caregiver take better physical care of himself so he can continue to properly care for the patient.

The Superman Complex

When I gently suggest a privately paid home care worker for respite, the reaction is often the same: “I do not need that care, no one can care for my wife the way that I can.” They confide that they believe accepting any help would be an admission of a short coming. In addition, they do not want the intrusion of having a stranger in the home. I remind him that failure to follow this advice can set the stage for both spouses to be ill. I tell my care giving husbands they have to be a little bit selfish and take some time for themselves (go for a walk, to a movie or a concert). They will come back stronger and be able to sustain the care giving role for a longer period of time.

When a family member is ill it is common for there to be frequent inquiries into the health and condition of the Alzheimer’s patient. Forgotten in many cases is the health and condition of the caregiver. No one asks the caregiver “How are you doing?”

A Crisis Driven Practice

The elder law practice is a crisis driven practice. Clients reach out for help when there is an emergency such as a hospitalization or a fall. Little advance planning has been done. There may be no power of attorney, health care proxy, living will or last will and testament in place. There is a need for an immediate course of action. But, no action plan can be implemented if the caregiver is overwhelmed. The well being of the caregiver must be addressed first.