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For many older men, caring for a spouse with a memory disorder is an unexpected career. After years on the job, couples retire and look forward to traveling, enjoying grandchildren, and making the most of their golden years. Over time they've developed household routines and have learned to cope with the ailments, aches and pains, numerous medications and frequent medical appointments that are a part of growing old.

When an elderly wife is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the couple's lives change dramatically. As the disease progresses her husband will need take on not only caregiving responsibilities but also household and other chores that that she can no longer manage herself. Sons may also find themselves in similar situations if their mother is a widow or his father can't manage caregiving by himself. Many people don't know much about Alzheimer's until someone in their family is diagnosed with the disease. Families will need to learn about the disease, its treatments, and the mental, physical, personality and emotional changes an older wife or mother may experience from the disease's affect on her brain.

Women are more likely to be diagnosed Alzheimer's disease than men. According to Alzheimer's Association statistics one in six women compared with one in ten men over 55 wi11 develop Alzheimer's during their remaining lifetime. As a result a growing number of men will be caregivers for their wives or mothers. Even now men make up nearly forty percent of family caregivers, up from 19 percent according to research from the Alzheimer's Association.

Men may not be aware of the Alzheimer's Association and the array of information resources and services they provide just for caregiving men. Support groups that Association chapters offer provide a wealth of information for new and experience caregivers. Many chapters sponsor support groups "just for men" where spouses and other family members caregivers can share their experiences with memory loss and pick up tips about managing the disease and its behaviors from each other.

Although a diagnosis of Alzheimer's is overwhelming, caregiving for an ill spouse or mother offers opportunities for husbands and sons to learn new skills and develop new relationships with their wives or mothers. The routine of daily caregiving gives men chance to express their love for wives and mothers and pay her back for all the care, love and companionship she has given him during their years together.

Families are essential sources of support for older male relatives faced with caring for a wife with a memory disorder. They can help him manage unfamiliar caregiving and household chores, prepare meals, run errands, visit with their older mother, and give their father some time away from the stresses of looking after the needs of his spouse.
If you don't live near your elderly relative, contact local social service agencies for information about in-home services for older adults that may make your son's or parent's caregiving chores easier.

A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.