The day a person becomes a grandparent is eagerly anticipated with a commingled sense of pride and wonder about one’s place in the never-ceasing circle of life. But new research suggests that the role a grandparent plays in their grandchild’s life may also affect the older adult’s well-being in a more measurable way.
Scientists from the University of Melbourne, led by researcher Katherine Burn, analyzed a series of studies that examined the impact of grandparenting on a person’s physical and mental health. “One key example of social engagement in later life is the role of a grandparent,” study authors write. “This role promotes a socially active lifestyle that may be beneficial to cognitive ageing.”
Understanding the effects of grandparenting on a person’s health is especially important given that almost 40 percent of Americans over 30 bear significant responsibility for the care of their grandchildren, according to US Census data.
The benefits of grandparenting
Beyond the simple, yet profound, joy of holding a smiling granddaughter or grandson in one’s arms, there are a host of potential benefits to having a solid relationship with one’s grandchildren, including:
Stronger social ties: Loneliness is an ongoing bane for many older adults. As friends and family members pass away and the physical effects of advancing age begin to take their toll, it can become all too easy for an aging adult to become isolated. But grandchildren offer an opportunity to remain socially engaged with the world — and more social engagement typically translates to less cognitive decline.
Brain-boosting stimulation: As any parent or grandparent can tell you, looking after a high-energy child requires a great deal of mental vigor and flexibility. “Caring for children can be hugely demanding on a career, both socially and emotionally, and can require a relatively large cognitive resource,” study authors write.
This is a good thing, since disuse of the body and mind is one of the quickest ways to accelerate the effects of aging. Thus, a grandchild who forces you to think on your feet is actually helping you maintain mental capacity.
Fun physical fitness: Several studies have shown that men and women with grandchildren to chase report better physical functioning than their less active counterparts.
As with anything else that’s good in moderation — chocolate, wine, etc — the benefits of grandparenting can become too much, if the older adult must shoulder a significant burden of the child’s care.
Burn and her colleagues note that grandparents who take too active of a role in raising their grandchildren could experience negative health effects such as exacerbation of physical injuries and stress-related health issues.
It seems as though there’s a Goldilocks principle to grandparenting: too little and you won’t get the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of being a grandparent; too much and you could be putting your health at risk; just enough and you’ll be setting yourself and your loved ones up for a healthy, fulfilling aging experience.
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