Can Grandparents Live Longer Simply By Caring For Their Grandchildren? Study Says…
Grandparents who help out with childcare or provide support to others in their community tend to live longer than seniors who do not care for other people, according to a study from Berlin, Germany. While having full-time custody of grandchildren can have a negative effect on health, occasional helping can be beneficial for seniors.
An international research team has found that grandparents who care for their grandchildren on average live longer than grandparents who do not. The researchers conducted survival analyses of over 500 people aged between 70 and 103 years, drawing on data from the Berlin Aging Study collected between 1990 and 2009.
In contrast to most previous studies on the topic, these researchers deliberately did not include grandparents who were primary or custodial caregivers. Instead, they compared grandparents who provided occasional childcare with grandparents who did not, as well as with older adults who did not have children or grandchildren but who provided care for others in their social network.
International Study Reveals Grandparents Who Care For Their Grandchildren On Average Live Longer Than Grandparents Who Do Not
“Having no contact with grandchildren at all can negatively impact the health of grandparents,” said lead author Sonja Hilbrand, doctoral student in the department of psychology at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
“This link could be a mechanism deeply rooted in our evolutionary past when help with childcare was crucial for the survival of the human species,” Hilbrand told Reuters Health by email.
The findings are drawn from data on more than 500 people over age 70 in the Berlin Aging Study. The participants completed interviews and medical tests every two years between 1990 and 2009.
The study team compared this group with seniors who provided support for non-family members, such as friends or neighbors, and seniors who did not provide any care to other people.
Overall, after accounting for grandparents’ age and general state of health, the risk of dying over a 20-year period was one-third lower for grandparents who cared for their grandchildren, compared with grandparents who did not provide any childcare.
Half of the grandparents who cared for grandchildren were still alive ten years after the initial interview. The same was true for participants who did not have grandchildren but supported their adult children in some way, such as helping with housework.
Grandparents With No Contact At All With Their Grandkids May Die Earlier, And Not Live Longer Says Study.
Interestingly, about half of the participants who did not help others died within five years of the start of the study.
Caregiving was linked with longer life even when the care recipient wasn’t a relative. Half of all childless seniors who provided support to friends or neighbors lived for seven years after the study began, whereas non-helpers lived for four years on average.
“Caregiving may give caregivers a purpose of life because caregivers may feel useful for the others and for the society,” said Bruno Arpino, an associate professor at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain who was not involved in the study.
“Caregiving may be thought also as an activity that (keeps) caregivers physically and mentally active,” Arpino said by email, adding that previous studies suggest that caregiving may improve cognitive functioning, mental and physical health.
But Too Intense Involvement May Causes Stress:
“Helping shouldn’t be misunderstood as a panacea for a longer life,” says Ralph Hertwig, Director of the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “A moderate level of caregiving involvement does seem to have positive effects on health. But previous studies have shown that more intense involvement causes stress, which has negative effects on physical and mental health,” says Hertwig.
“It is very important that every individual decides for him/herself, what ‘moderate amounts of help’ means,” Hilbrand said, adding, “As long as you do not feel stressed about the intensity of help you provide you may be doing something good for others as well as for yourself.” “Children should take into (consideration) their parents’ needs, willingness and desires and agree with them on the timing and amount of childcare,” Arpino suggested.
So, as we get older, helping our children, grandchildren or others may help us live longer – in part providing a purpose to live and keep us physically and mentally active! Good news for us involved Grandparents! Now when is our next trip scheduled to Dallas to see our wonderful 2 grandchildren?
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.