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The special challenges that Black male caregivers face

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Almost 40% of people who care for an older family member are men, and a third of them are Black. But Black male caregivers face some issues that other men don't - their health is worse, and they're also more likely to be unmarried and caregiving by themselves. Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE, BYLINE: The last day has not gone the way Robert Turner expected. His father, who's 85, ended up in the hospital last night, and he's just picking him up to take him back to the family home in Piscataway, N.J.

ROBERT TURNER JR: Say goodbye to the hospital, Dad. Tell everybody goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Bye.

MILNE-TYTE: About half an hour later, Turner pulls into the driveway of the house where he grew up, eases his dad out of the car, and with the help of their home health aide, supports him up the stairs...

ROBERT TURNER JR: You got him OK?

UNIDENTIFIED AIDE: Mm-hmm.

ROBERT TURNER JR: OK.

MILNE-TYTE: ...And settles him into a chair in the living room.

ROBERT TURNER JR: How's your hand feel?

ROBERT TURNER SR: Much better.

ROBERT TURNER JR: Much better?

ROBERT TURNER SR: Yeah.

ROBERT TURNER JR: It's good to be back from the hospital, right?

ROBERT TURNER SR: Yeah.

ROBERT TURNER JR: All right.

MILNE-TYTE: Turner's father, also called Robert, has Alzheimer's. He joined the Marines at 19 years old, became an electrician, had four kids, and in later years, was a deacon at his church. Turner has been taking care of his dad since his mom died two years ago. He is glad to do it.

ROBERT TURNER JR: He has shown me every step of the way how to be a man. Even now in his state, he is showing me what dignity and what grace is and what honor and respect and how to age gracefully.

MILNE-TYTE: As well as being a son, Turner is a professor in the medical school at George Washington University. And for the last several years, he's been conducting a study into the brain health of Black men who look after someone with dementia. He says, not only do African American men have poorer health than other Americans and deal with negative perceptions of who they are...

ROBERT TURNER JR: They rate that they have more of a financial burden being a caregiver than any other group.

MILNE-TYTE: Family relationships can affect stress levels too. Diane Mariani oversees the Caring for Caregivers program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

DIANE MARIANI: Sometimes there's a large family, but nobody else is asking, what can I do or providing support or there's a lot of excuses.

MILNE-TYTE: Adding to feelings of isolation and overload in a role many men choose not to discuss publicly. Mariani says researchers found caregivers in her program do better and so do the older people they care for, who have...

MARIANI: Fewer hospital stays and shorter, you know, lengths of stay that are spent on the hospital.

MILNE-TYTE: Showing, she says, how tightly connected caregiver and care recipient are. Don Williams commutes each month from Maryland to care for his mother in Georgia. She's 97. He's a member of a faith-based caregivers support group that meets online.

DON WILLIAMS: My faith has gotten me through so many different things over my life. And I know that it helps sustain me and to help me make decisions that I need to 'cause I couldn't do this by myself.

MILNE-TYTE: Williams is a widower, and he has had metastatic prostate cancer. He's fit his caregiving alongside his cancer treatment, which just wrapped up. He says, it has been a strain, but...

WILLIAMS: You know, if my mother leaves this world before me, I know I will have done everything I could to contribute to her quality of life.

MILNE-TYTE: Robert Turner feels the same way. His dad has good and bad days. But even on a day that began in the hospital, he's cheerful.

ROBERT TURNER SR: (Singing) Oh, when the Saints go marching in. Lord, I want to be in that number, when the Saints come marching in. Oh, when...

MILNE-TYTE: Turner says he's looked up to his father his whole life, and he'll be there as long as his dad needs him. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ashley Milne-Tyte
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