For seniors fortunate enough to live near family, time spent with grandchildren can feel like a real gift. Thanks to new research, doctors are starting to see the benefits of that companionship extending well beyond the joy of a few hours together. According to senior health experts, grandparents who spend a moderate amount of time caring for their grandchildren experience measurable cognitive benefits, as well as boosts to overall health. And doctors see these findings as able to extend beyond familial relationships to older adults helping with children in general, perhaps at a school or daycare center.
Sounds like encouraging news for seniors able to spend regular time with their grandkids, or with kids in general! So aside from the obvious fun aspect, what are some of these health benefits?
- Lowered risk of Alzheimer’s: In the most well known study on this topic, researchers from the Women’s Health Aging Project in Australia conducted three different tests to measure cognitive ability in 186 women, ages 57 to 68, 120 of whom were grandmothers. They found that the grandmothers who helped with childcare one day a week scored the highest among their study peers in cognitive testing (verbal recall performance, for example). It’s important to note that, among this same grandparent pool, those who babysat five days a week saw their scores drop significantly; so the key to this cognitive benefit seems to lie in moderation.
- Anti-depressive benefits: We’ve talked here before about loneliness in seniors being a gateway to depression and other health issues. So it follows that any positive interaction helping kids would be beneficial – tutoring in an after school program, for example, or reading to preschoolers at library story time. One study indicates that grandparents in particular who enjoy healthy bonding time with grandchildren have a brighter outlook and are at lower risk of developing depression.
- Longer lifespan: Spending a moderate amount of time babysitting could also help seniors live longer, say researchers who took a recent look at older adults as caregivers. In the study, grandparents with limited but regular caregiving responsibilities showed a 37% lower mortality risk than adults of the same age without similar experience. Again, researchers point out that the key here is moderation, and that grandparent caregivers who were “on the job” full time saw these benefits decline significantly.
Sound good to you? If you or a senior you know would enjoy these kinds of caregiving opportunities but don’t have family nearby, head to the AARP or Retired Brains to connect with volunteer opportunities in your area!