There's No "W" in Caregiver

Lynette Whiteman

There's No "W" in Caregiver

Lynette Whiteman
There is no denying that women make up the bulk of caregivers.  According to statistics found on the Family Caregiver Alliance web site:

    An estimated 66% of caregivers are female. 
  • The average caregiver is a 49 year old woman who works outside the home and provides 20 hours per week of unpaid care to her mother.

  • Although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.


  • Since I myself have three sons, my sincere hope is that the role of the caregiver will equalize gender-wise as the roles of women and men change and evolve.  My husband is the primary caregiver for his mother, so my boys have a great role model.

    A few years ago, I was called by Bob who was 75 years old and caring for his sister Sarah who was 78 and had dementia.  Bob was asking for a volunteer from our Alzheimer’s Respite Care Program so he could go grocery shopping.  Sarah could not be left alone and she wandered away when he took her to the store.

    Bob and Sarah were both married, but lost their spouses, had no children and there were no other siblings. When Sarah developed Alzheimer’s disease, Bob felt it was his duty to have her move in with him and care for her. They could not afford home health aides or any support in the home.

    I matched him with our wonderful volunteer Margit and she began going over once per week to stay with Sarah to allow Bob to go to store by himself. Sarah in her younger years loved to draw caricatures of famous people and they would look through her books filled with drawings for hours.

    After a month or so of visits, Bob opened up to Margit that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer the previous year. He hadn’t been going for his radiation treatments because he couldn’t leave Sarah alone. He was sacrificing himself for her and said “she would do the same for me if the situation was reversed.”

    Immediately, Margit called me and said we have to do something!! We assigned another volunteer to shop for Bob and Margit rearranged her schedule so she could go over when he went for radiation. We reminded Bob that if he doesn’t take care of himself, there would be no one around to care for Sarah.

    Eventually, Sarah’s care became way too much for Bob to handle and he reluctantly placed her in a long-term care facility. He continued to visit her daily and their love endured, even when Sarah no longer recognized him or could communicate verbally.

    The story of Sarah and Bob reminds me that there are good people in the world and men can and do step up to the plate in the caregiving arena. Maybe the change in caregiving gender roles needs to be similar to other shifts in gender roles -- women need to ask directly what they need; they need to ask both their sisters AND brothers, their daughters AND sons, their female friends AND male friends.

    I’m not sure things are going to change; unless there is a conscious effort to change the perception that caregiving is not only “women’s work.”  Let's not give up hope, after all, it used to be unusual to go to a female physician or lawyer and now no one blinks an eye.

    Would love to hear your thoughts!!

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Thank you for writing this Lynette. I just found this site today and as I sit here alone, with what feels like the weight of the world upon my shoulders, I am encouraged, simply because I know I am not alone. I fit into those statistics well. Caring for my parents at 51 years of age. And praying there aren't too many days like today. Thanks again!