Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease, as nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's are female. And although the majority of caregivers for this population is made up of women, an increasing number of men find themselves caring for spouses living with the disease. While men are equally capable of providing compassionate care to a spouse experiencing cognitive decline, they do face some unique societal challenges.Often, male caregivers may be less inclined to seek the resources and support needed to navigate this journey in a physically and mentally healthy way. They may try to shoulder the burden alone, which can impact both their own well-being and that of their loved one. To support male caregivers of spouses facing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, following are some helpful insights and information.
Knowing What to Expect One of the most difficult aspects of caring for a partner facing cognitive decline is noticing the signs and coming to terms with what lies ahead. If you begin to detect warning signs of dementia-related challenges in your spouse, it is critical to become informed about what those symptoms may signal—and what you will realistically need in order to address each stage as it unfolds.“In the early stage of Alzheimer's, a person may function independently,” says the Alzheimer’s Association. “Symptoms may not be widely apparent at this stage, but family and close friends may take notice and a doctor would be able to identify symptoms using certain diagnostic tools.” Some of the challenges a partner may see their spouse experiencing include struggling to come up with the right word or name, having difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings, losing or misplacing valuable objects, and having increased trouble with planning or organizing.“As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer's will require a greater level of care. During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, the dementia symptoms are more pronounced. The person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, and act in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can also make it difficult for the person to express thoughts and perform routine tasks without assistance.” Symptoms in this middle stage vary from person to person, but the spouse living with Alzheimer’s can still participate in daily activities with assistance. As the need for more intensive care increases, caregivers should consider whether they need more formal types of support.“In the final stage of the disease, dementia symptoms are severe. Individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement. They may still say words or phrases, but communicating pain becomes difficult. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place and individuals need extensive care.” This is a time when specialized memory care is more important than ever.Getting In Touch with EmotionsMale caregivers who recognize and begin to address these challenges with their partner facing Alzheimer’s or dementia are likely to find themselves in a new and unfamiliar role. They may have a great deal of hesitance and uncertainty about how to access information and what to do to support their loved one living with the disease. All of these emotions and insecurities are absolutely normal and understandable.
As explained by the Alzheimer’s Association, “Providing support to a person living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia is an ongoing and sometimes emotional process. As a care partner, you may be feeling overwhelmed by emotions that range from fear to hope. Emotions may be triggered by thoughts about how this diagnosis will impact your life, but also the anticipation of future challenges. Learning to recognize your emotions may help you move forward and help the person with dementia live the best life possible.”
Some of the emotions a caregiver may experience as they step into their new role include:
- Denial: This is a diagnosis that’s often difficult to accept, and short-term denial can be a healthy coping mechanism during the adjustment period. But long-term denial is likely to inhibit important decision-making needs and can impact your spouse’s quality of life.
- Fear: There’s a multitude of fears that can be felt surrounding the progression of the disease and potential future challenges. While fear is a normal human reaction, it’s essential to ensure it doesn’t prevent you from focusing on the present.
- Stress/Anxiety: Increased stress is a common outcome of dealing with the uncertainty that accompanies this diagnosis, as well as one’s efforts to address each stage as it unfolds.
- Anger/Frustration. It is not unusual for a spouse to feel anger and resentment toward the diagnosis. This follows a loss of control over the situation and a realization of how the disease will impact your future.
- Grief/Depression. Accepting the reality of a spouse’s decline is no easy feat, and there is likely to be sadness or sense of loss over your relationship.
For male caregivers who find themselves struggling with these types of emotional burdens, mental and even physical health can become compromised. Though societal stereotypes may make doing so uneasy or uncomfortable, it’s incredibly important for male caregivers to recognize their own limits and challenges, and reach out when support is needed to help manage this new reality.
Making Difficult Decisions
If you are a caregiver in the position of receiving an early diagnosis for your spouse, the good news is that there’s a valuable opportunity to engage in pre-planning with your partner prior to a more progressive decline in their cognitive abilities. That means it’s important to take advantage of this time to make decisions regarding long-term care, legal and financial issues, and other aspects of the journey ahead.
“While these conversations can be difficult, including the person in the early stage of the disease in this process can be empowering for everyone involved. As their care partner, knowing the wishes of the individual can help you feel confident about the future decisions you will need to make on their behalf. The sooner plans for the future are established, the better prepared you and the person with dementia will be.”
During these discussions (or if the disease has already progressed to a point at which more intensive care is needed), be sure to address the option of memory care. This specialized form of care can dramatically improve quality of life for a senior diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Quality memory care communities give seniors and their families priceless peace of mind surrounding the difficult issues that arise from dealing with cognitive decline.
If your spouse has been living with the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, one of the best things you can do is look into the memory care opportunities available in your community. Speak with the staff, have your questions answered and tour the properties to get a firsthand experience of the ways a memory care community can positively impact quality of life for you and your spouse.
To learn about UMH communities, including the memory support services provided for residents and their families, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now.