By Hilary Appelman
Earl Harvey moved into his 86-year-old mother’s Atlantic City home five years ago to help get her medical and financial situations in order.
He knew that while his mother, who has dementia, did not need to be institutionalized, she couldn’t live alone. So Harvey, 62, a Philadelphia-based publisher who works from home, and whose three children are grown, became her full-time caregiver.
“When my father died, he told me, ‘Take care of your mother,’ ” Harvey said. “I’m an only child, so my mother is my responsibility.”
Harvey is one of a growing number of men caring for family members. A 2015 national survey conducted by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that 40 percent of family caregivers of adults were men. More than half of those 16 million men were the primary caregiver.
Louis Colbert, who has run a support group for caregivers at Philadelphia’s Pinn Memorial Baptist Church for the past 12 years, said seven of the group’s roughly 30 members are men.
“One man with five kids told me he never changed a diaper until he had to change his wife’s diaper,” said Colbert, who is vice president of operations at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, the largest of the state’s 52 Area Agencies on Aging. Along with his siblings, he took care of his mother until her death, three years ago.
Colbert has observed that caregivers tend to join the support group when “they’re stressed out and don’t know what to do, where to turn.”
Raising sensitive topics
Meeting monthly, his group provides a light meal, conversation and expert speakers on topics such as how to care for loved ones after they are discharged from the hospital.
Some issues are difficult. Harvey recalled helping his mother with personal tasks like bathing and grooming.
“The first time I bathed my mom, she said, ‘You’re not bathing me!’ ” he said, laughing. “I said, ‘I don’t want to do it, either!’ After a while you get used to it and just do it.”
Barry J. Jacobs, a clinical psychologist with Crozer-Keystone Health System in Springfield and author of AARP Meditations for Caregivers, said men are less likely to seek support, either in person or online. They may feel they are letting their loved one down by asking for help.
Fred Lewis, 89, of Philadelphia, has been caring for his wife, Carrie, since she suffered a stroke three years ago. The day that he needs more help will come, Lewis said, but “I haven’t reached that point.”
Jacobs said he tells caregivers, “Let’s figure out a way to do this in a smart and strategic way so you can do this as long as you can.”
The 2015 survey found that many male caregivers want more training in medical and nursing tasks, such as injections or wound care.
Ray Landis, advocacy manager for AARP Pennsylvania, said that’s one of the goals of the state’s Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, which took effect in April. The law requires hospitals to share more information with family caregivers.
To find a local support group, caregivers can go to eldercare.gov and enter their zip code. AARP’s caregiving site (aarp.org/caregivers) has information and resources, as does aarp.org/pa. Videos featuring male caregivers, including the support group in Philadelphia, can be found at aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-2017/celebrate-male-caregivers-studios.
The need for caregivers is enormous and growing, Jacobs said. “We need everyone stepping up, and that has to include men.”
Hilary Appelman is a writer living in State College, Pa.