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Caregiving for Older Male Loved Ones

By Julie Hayes | 06/15/2022

A caregiver chatting with her older adult father

Every caregiving journey is unique, and there are so many factors that can change the experience. Your loved one’s family history, age, diet and ethnicity are all things that can affect his or her wellness, while their temperament, ability to communicate, values and beliefs can all impact the smoothness of providing care. Biological sex can also play a role. Those who care for the important men in their lives—fathers, spouses, partners, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, and many more—may experience different challenges than those caring for women.

If you are a caregiver for a male older loved one, here are some common questions you may have, as well as some tips to keep in mind.

Why do men have a shorter life expectancy than women?

You may be familiar with the statistic that women live longer than men. This isn’t just a battle-of-the-sexes, “don’t worry, I’ll outlive you” punchline; it’s actually backed by data. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy for men typically falls in the range between 76-78 years, while life expectancy for women more commonly falls in the 80-82 range.

There have been several theories over the years as to why men don’t tend to live as long as women. Several reasons are biological, while others are social. Among the most accepted are:

  • Higher ‘risk-taking’ behaviors or habits: According to the CDC, men tend to drink and smoke more than women, meaning they are at a higher risk of alcohol- and smoking-related diseases, as well as accidents and injuries caused by drinking. Men are also more likely to work dangerous jobs like firefighting, mining, construction work or serving in the military.
  • Higher risk of heart disease at a younger age: Heart attacks and coronary artery disease can easily turn fatal, and men—as well as those assigned male at birth—tend to experience these heart complications at a younger age than women and those assigned female at birth do. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average age for a man to experience a heart attack is 66, compared to 70 for women. 
  • Higher rates of suicide: According to Mayo Clinic, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men. However, men are more likely to die by suicide than women.  
  • Lower likelihood or visiting a doctor or discussing health: According to WebMD, close to half of men report that they don’t go in for annual wellness checks. They are also less likely to see a doctor about symptoms and injuries, or go in for routine teeth and eye care. Unlike women, they also don’t tend to discuss health-related issues with friends, peers or even family. Cultural expectations to “man up” and “tough it out” play a big role in this issue, especially since men start hearing these kinds of messages from a young age, making them hard to shake when they are older.

What are important health issues to be aware of when caring for an older man?

As a caregiver, it’s an important to be aware of the health conditions that may impact the older man you care for. Important health issues to focus on include:

  • Heart disease: As mentioned earlier, men tend to be affected by heart issues early in their older adulthood
  • Prostate cancer: According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 1 in 41 die of the condition
  • HPV and other STIs: Older adults in general are less likely to be tested for, or even asked by their doctors about STIs compared to their younger counterparts. HPV in particular is common among sexually active adults, and can lead to cancer
  • Diabetes: According to the CDC, men are at a higher risk for diabetes
  • Low testosterone: According to the Cleveland Clinic, low testosterone affects around 40 percent of men aged 45 and older. Low testosterone can affect mood, sex drive, feelings of depression, concentration and even memory.

What can I do to help the man I provide care for age well?

  • Encourage annual exams: Preventive health saves lives, but if men don’t go to the doctor, they can’t benefit from it. Screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, prostate wellness and STIs can go a long way in lessening the various risks mentioned above. For all-around wellness, eye and dental exams should also not be neglected! 
  • Make mental health a discussion: It may feel like society is talking about mental health more than ever, but men, especially older men, are still not as much a part of this conversation as they need to be. Set the tone by paying close attention to your loved one’s mood, behavior and self-image, and checking in on how he’s feeling. Let him know that you’re there for him, and encourage any efforts to talk about mental wellness and seek help.
  • Know your loved one’s family history: You and your loved one will be better prepared for potential risks if you know of them beforehand. If your loved one doesn’t know this information, asking other family members may help.
  • Don’t contribute to gender stigma: Negative messaging often comes from outside sources, but it can also be reinforced by our own actions. For example, you may compliment your loved one for never complaining about his health—but there are times when he should be speaking up, but isn’t. Try to avoid falling into the “toughen up” mindset and empower your loved one to seek help when he needs it. If you are a male caregiver, remember that guiding by example can have a big impact, even if your loved one is older than you.
  • Use supportive resources: There are so many local and national resources out there from caregiver support groups to disease specific organizations that are designed to help you and your loved one. Some great ways to explore these resources include reaching out to your local Area Agency on Aging, visiting the Eldercare Locator or seeking referrals and suggestions from healthcare professionals or even local senior centers or libraries. There are also care coaching services like Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s WeCare…Because You Do which tailor care plans to you and your loved one’s individual needs.    
     

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