- Associated Press - Saturday, May 3, 2014

URBANA, Ill. (AP) - By the time Jack Gillespie had to turn the care of his wife, Norma, over to a nursing home, he’d lost 40 pounds taking care of her himself as Alzheimer’s disease steadily wasted her brain.

His friend, Chuck Cowger, had two heart surgeries during the years he, too, cared for his dementia-stricken wife, Jan Hartman, at home.

Both men were worn out, but they agonized over relinquishing the care of their spouses to someone else.

When the day arrived for Gillespie to move his wife, Norma, into a nursing home, he recalls, “I cried like a baby after I got home - and several days after.”

Gillespie, 81, and Cowger, 75, both of Urbana, met when each of their wives spent time in a program at Circle of Friends adult day center in Champaign, and ended up talking over coffee.

Jack was really torn up that he had to put her in residential care,” Cowger recalls.

They’ve since formed an informal coffee/support group with seven other men. All the guys range in age from their 70s to their 90s and have one thing in common: They’re all husbands or widowers who are, or were, taking care of wives with dementia.

They get together once a week at a local restaurant and talk about their wives, the loss of their wives, care decisions, “everything,” Gillespie says, “anything to get the pressure off.”

There are still more women then men caring for loved ones at home with Alzheimer’s. But the number of male caregivers doubled over 15 years, from 19 percent to 40 percent, the Alzheimer’s Association found in 2012.

The organization hasn’t taken another look at whether the number of male caregivers is poised to grow more, but in a new report last month it detailed the heavy toll the disease is taking on women. Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women, and the lifetime risk for developing Alzheimer’s for women is 1 in 6 - compared to 1 in 11 for men.

Kathy Rhoads, co-director of Circle of Friends, says that day program for the elderly has its own Alzheimer’s support group, but she was happy to see these men forming their own group to extend extra support to each other.

Oftentimes women are accustomed to being the caregivers because they raised the children, she says, and it can be more difficult for men to take on that role.

Men tend to want fix things, Rhoads said, and Alzheimer’s is a disease that can’t be fixed.

“I think it’s difficult for men, because they can’t fix it,” she says.

In sickness and health

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