How to go from caring for women only to comfortably caring for men?

1 answer | Last updated: Dec 23, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

I have been a caregiver for women only in the past. I recently received a call to care for a gentleman with bowel incontinence among other things. It would require helping, of course, with his daily bathing and bathroom habits. I am not sure where to begin or how I would become comfortable with this new thing.

Expert Answers

As Founder and Director of Circles of Care, Ann Cason provides caregiving, consulting, and training services to individuals and public and private organizations involved in eldercare. She is the author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders.

I would like to praise you for asking this question. We grow in our humanity by going beyond what we think we can do. 

I learned the hard way. Once I took an older gentleman to the airport. He went into the men's room and didn't come out. I went in. He was standing in front of the sink without his trousers trying to clean himself with a paper towel. It was a choiceless lesson. I had to do it.

But, there is more than one way to approach this question:  You could just say yes! Take the job. Take a breath. Realize that the substances of the bodies of men and women are not different.  Let yourself stand in his shoes. For a moment feel his distress at being incontinent. Then let go of the distress and very matter of factly clean him up.

Another approach: Talk to the family or the agency. Tell them of your wllingness. But also let them know your lack of experience with men. Try to get the visiting nurse service or another medicare agency to come to the home and train you. 

Also a word of caution: Sometimes our fears of the opposite sex are deep seated. If the thought of what I have suggested, brings too much stress, turn down the job.  Keep working with women, but sign up for counselling. Keep sight of what you want to learn, but go slowly.  Take the time to work on yourself:

  • Sign up for caregiver support groups
  • Take a mind/body exercise class such as yoga, or Tai Chi.
  • Sign up for the gym
  • Take an anatomy course and study the human body.