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Studies Show Increased Health Benefits to Grandparents

Kimberly Fowler
By Kimberly FowlerNovember 17, 2016

It’s difficult to articulate exactly what makes being a grandparent so wonderful. It could be that you have more time to enjoy your grandchildren than you did your own children. Or, your life experience and wisdom may allow you to appreciate the experience more than when you were raising your own children in your twenties or thirties. Maybe it’s the fact that at the end of the day your grandchildren go home — which means you can enjoy them while maintaining your own independence.

Whatever the reason, most people find that being a grandparent is more rewarding than being a parent. Learn more about the studies which show increased health benefits to grandparents.

How Caring for Grandchildren Increases Health Benefits

As life expectancy rises across the globe, people are, for the first time in human history, able to know their grandparents well into their adulthood. This new fact has given researchers the opportunity to study relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, and the results have shown significant health benefits for both generations.

The Women’s Health Aging Project in Australia recently studied the cognitive function of postmenopausal women who cared for grandchildren.

The result showed that women who spent one day a week caring for their young grandchildren may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.

It is unclear whether this benefit is extended to grandfathers who care for young grandchildren.

Researchers aren’t sure why there is a link between caring for grandchildren and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. The belief is that the regular social interaction may have a positive effect on mental health, which lowers the risk of developing the disease.

However, when it comes to caring for grandchildren, too much babysitting can actually have damaging effects. The study showed that postmenopausal women who spent five days a week or more caring for young grandchildren may have a higher risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders.

It seems that too much or too little time spent caring for young grandchildren can have an impact on the health of older women. As with most things in life, balance seems to be the key.

Quality Relationship with Grandchildren More Important Than Time Spent Together

Another study from researchers at Boston College found that when an adult grandchild and grandparent have a positive, strong relationship, both groups experienced fewer symptoms of depression. The twenty year study, which tracked the mental health of 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, ran from 1985-2004. Over this period of time, researchers found that “adult grandchildren and grandparents who felt emotionally close to the other generation had fewer symptoms of depression,” Live Science reports.

“The greater emotional support [they] received from one another, the better their psychological health,” said “Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor in the department of sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College,” in a press release. In fact, “the closer the bond, the more antidepressive benefits were observed,” CBS News reports.

These benefits were linked with the quality of the relationship, not the amount of support given. Surprisingly, the study found that giving too much help to grandparents may actually have a negative effect on the grandparent’s emotional health.

“There’s a saying, ‘It’s better to give than to receive.’ Our results support that folk wisdom if a grandparent gets help, but can’t give it, he or she feels badly. Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown, and it’s frustrating and depressing for them to instead be dependent on their grandchildren,” Moorman told CBS News.

Admittedly, whether or not you become a grandparent is out of your control. Yet, according to science, those who are given the gift of grandchildren have also been given the opportunity to improve their own mental health and that of their grandchildren by developing strong, supportive relationships.

Are you a grandparent who has received increased health benefits from the quality time you’ve spent with your grandchild? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Kimberly Fowler
Kimberly Fowler
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