by Tobi Schwartz-Cassell~If we must go through the aging process, the best we can hope for is to go through it happily and with dignity. But as we and our family members get older, some extra help might be necessary. That could mean bringing caregivers into our homes or moving into a long term care facility like a nursing home, assisted living facility or continuing care retirement community.
So who does better in these cases? Men or women?
According to the article, “The Aging Process: Unique Challenges for Men,” the Illinois Council on Long Term Care (ICLTC) states, “The aging process can be difficult for both men and women, but research has shown that men generally have a harder time in adjusting to the changes.” The ICLTC is a professional healthcare association whose mission is to achieve the highest possible quality of life for nursing home residents through a working partnership with government, families, caregivers, and residents.
Helene Weinstein is the marketing director of Cherry Hill Senior Living, an assisted living facility in Cherry Hill, NJ. She concurs with the ICLTC, saying, “Men are used to being the decision makers in the home, so a move into long term care is difficult for them because they are now giving up something that helped define them.”
Weinstein adds, “Women also fare better because they’re more social. They adapt more easily to this lifestyle than men do. For men, it’s somewhat difficult to forge relationships with the other residents.”
The ICTLC article goes on to say, “Conditioned throughout their lives to be strong, controlling and independent, men can be devastated by the losses that are associated with aging. They may feel they no longer have anything to contribute to society and may find it very difficult to depend on others for everyday tasks.”
And sometimes, it just comes down to sheer numbers.
Says Weinstein, “Typically, we have mostly women in our community. There are fewer men in the assisted living setting.”
Weinstein’s observation matches the data. For instance, the National Center for Assisted Living reports that women outnumber men three to one in the average long term care facility. Similarly, in its National Study of Long Term Care Providers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health reported in 2013 that across the board, women were the higher users of long term care, with the highest numbers found in residential communities (72%).
Though she presents her theory in a tongue-in-cheek manner, journalist Pamela Gerhardt supports the belief that men have a tougher time in long term care in her Washington Post article, “How to Make Men Feel More Comfortable About Moving to Assisted Living Facilities.” Her recommendations make a lot of sense: “Lose the chintz, create a ‘sports bar’ dining spot and remove all art involving pastel sunsets.”
The ICLTC has implemented the following interventions at its nearly 200 long term care facilities, with successful results:
- Provide men with “work” opportunities and responsibilities such as leading an activity.
- Examine the resident’s activity assessment to identify past interests. For instance, a man with an interest in cars may enjoy reading through car catalogs.
- Intergenerational involvement can do wonders in boosting men’s self-esteem. Having the opportunity to share knowledge, skills, and wisdom with a younger person can help men feel important and valued.
- Make every effort to recognize and validate the male resident’s history and identity. Encourage family members to display awards, pictures, and diplomas in the resident’s room, and have staff discuss these personal items during caregiving.
Sometimes it’s easier for staff and family members to gravitate to a facility’s social butterflies, but making things more enjoyable and comfortable for the more reserved gender can be just as rewarding—not just for them, but for us as well.
Illinois Council on Long Term Care: “The Aging Process: Unique Challenges for Men”
Helene Weinstein, Marketing Director at Cherry Hill Senior Living, Cherry Hill, NJ, 856-482-9300
National Center for Assisted Living:
National Study of Long Term Care Providers, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health: