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Younger Men As Caregivers

Demographics of Helpers Change as Boomers Age

April 14, 2014
By BETSY BETHEL , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

By BETSY BETHEL

Associate Life Editor

When you hear the term "family caregiver," what image pops into your mind? Is it perhaps a 50-something female? That would make sense considering two-thirds of the 65.7 million caregivers in the U.S. are women with an average age of 48, according to the National Alliance on Caregiving.

Article Photos

Photos by Betsy Bethel

Ron Woods Jr., left, helps his father, right, wind up the garden hose at their home in Belmont. Ron Woods Sr., a retired coal miner, had a stroke last May that placed his son, 34, in the role of caregiver for his 72-year-old dad as well as his 67-year-old mom who has also had some health issues recently. Just as men are taking on more responsibilities in raising their children, “research suggests that the number of male caregivers (of older relatives) may be increasing and will continue to do so due to a variety of social demographic factors,” according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

But as the boomer population ages - 10,000 boomers are turing 65 each day in the U.S., the Census Bureau states - the people caring for them are growing more diverse. In fact, just as men are taking on more responsibilities in raising their children, "research suggests that the number of male caregivers (of older relatives) may be increasing and will continue to do so due to a variety of social demographic factors," states the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Ron Woods Jr. of Belmont is among this growing class of caregivers. Woods is 34 and works full time as the computer services manager at St. Clairsville Public Library. He helps care for both is father, Ron Woods Sr., who had a severe stroke in May and his mother, Karen, who recently had foot surgery and is pre-diabetic. His 93-year-old grandmother also lived with them until six months ago. She is now at a nursing facility in Barnesville.

Living with his parents, Woods naturally fell into the role of their primary caregiver, although his sister, 38-year-old Robin Sponhoultz of St. Clairsville, is a nurse who also helps a great deal.

Lewis Vittek of Tiltonsville is another caregiver who breaks the mold. The 36-year-old recently moved back to his hometown with his wife, Robin, when she became the director of the St. Clairsville Public Library. At the same time, the woman who had been caring for Vittek's 94-year-old grandmother had to quit due to illness.

"My mother and aunts know how well my grandmother and I get along and asked if I'd consider taking over," Vittek said. "It was not a hard decision to make. Aside from wanting to help out in this tough situation, due to some circumstances in my life it actually works well for me. That's not to say I expected it to be easy, but the decision was," Vittek said.

Through their caregiving roles, these men have found themselves being stretched in certain ways and have forged deeper bonds with their relatives.

Woods said the role-reversal with his father can be awkward. Ron Woods Sr., 72, worked as an underground coal miner for 23 years and then took a job in maintenance at the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville to stay active. He was retired from the mall for a week when he had his stroke, which robbed him of his ability to walk, talk and use his right hand, among other functions.

Ron Jr. said he and his sister worked with their dad "quite a bit" last summer to keep his spirits up, encouraging him to complete his physical, occupational and speech therapies. He can walk now and has been cleared to drive, but he still has difficulty with speech and does not have full control of his hand, which will often seize up. He takes medicine and breathing treatments three times a day, checks his blood pressure twice a day and sleeps with oxygen.

Ron Jr. said now that spring has sprung, it looks like it's going to be difficult to keep his dad - an avid gardener - from overdoing it.

"I had to take the garden tiller off him last Saturday. He wanted it done. He didn't want to stop until tomorrow, you know. So I took it and I did it instead," Ron Jr. said. In fact, he said since his father's stroke, he has developed quite a liking for garden work, something he had no interest in before.

"We're a lot closer than we used to be. He seems to involve me in more things," Ron Jr. said. "It makes you definitely appreciate that your parents are still around."

His dad's stroke also has made him aware of his own health; he likes to walk on the St. Clairsville trail and he knows he needs to quit smoking. Ron Sr. smoked cigarettes for 52 years but quit after the stroke, using the nicotine patch as an aid.

The hardest part, Ron Jr. said, is knowing when to step in and do something for his dad, and when to back off and let him do it himself.

Vittek said caring for his grandmother has been especially gratifying

The best part are the times when I am able to connect with the Grandma I've always known, even if just for fleeting moments - which is all there ever are now. The worst is having to witness her physical and mental breakdown up close. It's saddest when I see her realize what's happening to her. She'll be really wanting to talk to me about something when she sees on my face that I am not at all following what she's saying and she'll just stop or say "Boy, I'm losing it." She knows who I am and is generally aware of her surroundings, but is very mixed up as to what is reality, what was a dream and what was just a thought she had.

Family Caregiver Alliance

National Center on Caregiving

caregiver.org

Research suggests that the number of male caregivers may be increasing and will continue to do so due to a variety of social demographic factors.

[Kramer, B. J. & E. H. Thompson, (eds.), "Men as Caregivers," (New York: Prometheus Books, 2002).] - Updated: November 2012

More women than men are caregivers: an estimated 66% of caregivers are female. One-third (34%) take care of two or more people, and the average age of a female caregiver is 48.0.

[The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2009), Caregiving in the U.S. National Alliance for Caregiving. Washington, DC.] - Updated: November 2012

Key findings include:

* 29% of the U.S. adult population, or 65.7 million people, are caregivers,

including 31% of all households.

* Family caregivers provide an average of 20 hours of care per week.

* American caregivers are predominantly female (66%) and are an

average of 48 years old.

* Most care for a relative (86%), most often a parent (36%).

* Seven in ten caregivers care for someone over age 50.

* One in seven caregivers provides care, over and above regular parenting,

to a child with special needs (14%).

* Caregiving lasts an average of 4.6 years.

National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2009, Caregiving in the US

Shifting toward older caregivers and recipients. Avg age of caregiver rose from46-49 from 2004 to 2009. Decline among younger caregivers - Caregiving in the US

National Alliance for Caregiving and United Hospital Fund

September 2005 Young Caregivers in the US

8 and 18 - caring for a parent or grandparent

More than 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 each day.

Hello Betsy,

Here are my responses. Let me know if you need anything else.

1. I am 36 and my grandmother, Genevieve Saus, is 94.

2. I was moving back to my hometown at the same time the lady who sits with my grandmother during the day was leaving due to illness. My mother and aunts know how well my grandmother and I get along and asked if I'd consider taking over. It was not a hard decision to make. Aside from wanting to help out in this tough situation, due to some circumstances in my life it actually works well for me. That's not to say I expected it to be easy, but the decision was.

3. The best part are the times when I am able to connect with the Grandma I've always known, even if just for fleeting moments - which is all there ever are now. The worst is having to witness her physical and mental breakdown up close. It's saddest when I see her realize what's happening to her. She'll be really wanting to talk to me about something when she sees on my face that I am not at all following what she's saying and she'll just stop or say "Boy, I'm losing it." She knows who I am and is generally aware of her surroundings, but is very mixed up as to what is reality, what was a dream and what was just a thought she had."

Lewis

 
 
 

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