Diabetes Forecast

Support Systems for Male Caregivers

By Lindsey Wahowiak , ,

DiabetesSisters is a nonprofit organization that brings women with diabetes together for support and discussion. But at some of the group's recent conferences, founder Brandy Barnes says one topic stood out: What about the men in their lives?

Many of the women attending the events wanted their partners to feel involved in the conversation. So Chris Barnes, Brandy's husband, put together a mini-conference called Partner's Perspective for spouses and significant others. The male partners gather during the DiabetesSisters conference and discuss the issues they face as caregivers. What Chris Barnes has found is that the men learn one thing for sure: They don't know enough about diabetes.

"We had several men who had never used a glucagon kit," he says of the emergency injection used to combat severe hypoglycemia. "There were a lot of questions being asked and stories shared."

Women make up 59 to 75 percent of family caregivers and spend 50 percent more time providing care than their male counterparts do, according to estimates by the National Center on Caregiving of the nonprofit Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA).

A lack of caregiving experience can be daunting for male caregivers—and for their partners. Many women believe they should be able to always care for themselves, says Christina Irving, MSW, a family consultant for the FCA. "Historically, the gender roles have put women in the nurturing roles, the caretaker roles," she says. "And they want to be independent, want to be able to maintain their own health themselves."

But managing diabetes or any chronic condition is a lifelong task, and people with diabetes will need some help along the way. If you're not a traditional caregiver, you're new to caregiving, or you just want to provide your loved one with more support, start here:

ACTION ITEM: Ask lots of questions.

Many men—and many women—want to be able to solve problems logically. Of course, if you're not living with diabetes, you might not know where to begin—and diabetes isn't always logical. Caregivers can start by asking their partners the basics: How often do you test your blood glucose? What numbers are you aiming for, and what can help you get there? What should I know about hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and how can I help you in case of an emergency?

ACTION ITEM: Be ready to seek connections.

Barnes says men at Partner's Perspective were shy to talk about themselves, but once a few opened up, "they brought their walls down." Talking with friends or professionals can open the gates to greater support opportunities. If you keep to yourself, you may be missing out, Irving says. "Caregivers don't always identify as a caregiver. It's 'I'm a spouse, I'm a child,' " she says. "It's hard to find resources if you don't identify yourself. Men in particular are less likely to ask for help. But if you just stick to 'This is a family matter,' you're not going to find out about community resources … or medical resources, unless you share that experience with other people and ask for that information."

For more information on caregiver support, call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) or visit wellspouse.org.

ACTION ITEM: Open up communication.

Barnes says some of the Partner's Perspective participants said their wives didn't want to tell them when they needed extra diabetes support. "Women don't necessarily like to share because they feel like they are being a burden," he says. "But no one can read … minds." Just letting your partner know that his or her health is important to you can be a great support.

When you talk with your partner about diabetes, try to address it in a way that is open to discussion and teaching on both ends. "This is our opportunity to show that we appreciate them and that we want to learn about diabetes," Barnes says. "[We're] making sure that it's not 'your disease,' because diabetes affects the whole family."

ACTION ITEM: Take care of yourself.

The Well Spouse Association, a support organization for caregivers whose partners have chronic or long-term diseases, has two mottos: "You are not alone" and "When one is sick, two need help." Diabetes burnout happens to many people—including caregivers. So taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is important. Getting exercise and making social connections can help you feel your best.

"Any of these chronic health issues, they're marathons, not sprints," Irving says. "The more you take care of yourself, the more resilient you're going to be when faced with new challenges." As you support and help your loved one, she says, check on your own well-being, too.



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