In this article, I would like to provide some specific advice that might help men improve their caregiving skills. On my personal blog, CaringForASpouse.com, this is mainly what I focus on because male caregivers are a minority in the caregiving universe.
These tips apply equally to women too of course, although some might argue women might be more likely to embrace them naturally, while men need to embrace them consciously. Either way, I hope it will be useful to you if you’re trying to find your way in this new and daunting reality.
Don’t rely on brute strength
If the person you’re caring for has physical disabilities, your tendency might be to help with activities of daily living (ADLs) or transfers by using your strength. Certainly, at times, this might be necessary, but doing so routinely may put you at risk for physical injury and, if recovery is an objective, this won’t help your patient relearn the needed skills.
Take your cue from professional physical therapists who rely more on leverage and an understanding of biodynamics rather than just on muscle strength. In the course of my wife’s therapy, I’ve seen petite women able to assist male patients of considerable girth. Letting your patient contribute to the activity as much as possible is safer for you and healthier for them – physically and emotionally.
Get out of your own head
Sympathy is sharing someone else’s pain and is all in your head. Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s place and understanding what they are experiencing.
A lot of men are good at expressing sympathy, but not always so good at being empathetic. When it comes to caregiving, empathy is more powerful and helpful. Don’t pity your patient or feel sorry for them. Try to see the person’s life from his or her perspective and use that knowledge to improve the quality of life and care.
Being empathetic is hard because it requires you to truly feel and not remain detached and impartial – two characteristics that many men are taught to adopt at an early age. Practicing empathy will bring you and your patient closer together while building trust and confidence.
Do the dirty work
Rightly or not, in the caregiving world, men have the reputation of not wanting to do the nitty-gritty tasks like feeding and bathing a patient. Depending on your situation, you may be able to bring in supplemental help to take care of these activities, but I suggest you need to practice doing it all yourself.
I am my wife’s caregiver for 100% of her needs including all hygiene-related activities, and while it’s no picnic at times, I’m a better caregiver because I feel confident that I can deal with anything that comes up. Importantly, my wife is confident that I can manage as well.
You never know when you may be faced with a personal emergency and that is not the time to figure how to deal with it. I’m comfortable with and prepared for anything my wife can throw at me, and she can be creative.
I grew up thinking that taking care of myself wasn’t all that complicated. I had to learn to shower, shave, trim my nails and use the toilet – that’s all there was, right? When I matured, I learned the benefit of taking better care of my skin, hair, teeth, nutrition, etc., but it didn’t come easily, and it didn’t readily transfer to caregiving.
I’ve cared for both my dad and my wife and I see the importance of understanding the different requirements of men and women. Being familiar with the male anatomy and processes, I found it easier to ensure my dad’s needs were met. From a male perspective, women might seem more complicated, and you may need to learn about how best to deal with female-specific situations or rely on outside resources as needed.
For example, I still prefer to take my wife to the nail salon rather than attempting mani/pedis on my own.
For the rest, I’ve learned what I needed by asking various professional resources, talking to my sister, and consulting online resources. It hasn’t been easy, and I won’t say I’m totally comfortable, but it’s imperative not only to know how to deal with it, but to be able to tell when something is wrong.
Finally, a quiz – hint: Don’t trust your gut
A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
For many men, the first answer that comes to mind is that the ball costs 10 cents, but that's incorrect because then the bat costs only 90 cents more than the ball. The correct answer is that the ball costs 5 cents and the bat costs $1.05. An individual who relies on gut instincts would be likely to accept the first answer of 10 cents. However, another person, who take the time to reflect, might realize the initial error and come up with the correct answer.
People are often more likely to rely on gut instincts. The moral of the story is that we need to reach deep, put aside those gut instincts, and develop a thoughtful approach to caregiving. In the end, everyone benefits!
NPS-ALL-NP-00207 OCTOBER 2020