Having full-time custody of grandchildren can have a negative effect
on health, but occasional helping can be beneficial for seniors, the
researchers write in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.
“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 researchers did not include any grandparents who were the
primary caregivers for their grandchildren, only those who cared for
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.
In contrast, 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.
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“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.
Arpino noted, however, that caregiving is not the only activity that
can improve health, and too many caring responsibilities can take
away from other beneficial activities like working, being in social
clubs, or volunteering.
“Children should take into (consideration) their parents' needs,
willingness and desires and agree with them on the timing and amount
of childcare,” Arpino suggested.
“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
SOURCE: bit.ly/2honXO9 Evolution and Human Behavior, online December
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