AFP
Wire Service
2 minute read
18 Dec 2019
10:19 am

Looking after grandchildren could help grandparents feel less lonely

AFP

The team warn, however, that the positive effect of caring for grandkids could potentially wear off if grandparents are called upon too often.

New research suggests that grandparents who look after their grandchildren may feel less lonely. ©AleksandarNakic/Istock.com

New European research has found that seniors who spend time caring for a grandchild may feel less lonely and less socially isolated than their peers who take a less active role in childcare.

Carried out by researchers at the Department for Health Economics and Health Services Research, Universitatsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, the new study looked at 3,849 grandparents aged 40 to 85, 1,125 of whom said they actively cared for a grandchild, and asked them about their feelings of loneliness and social isolation using validated scales.

Both scales ranged from one to four, with one indicating strong agreement with a statement and four representing strong disagreement. A higher total score indicated a stronger feeling of perceived loneliness and social isolation.

The findings, published online in the journal BMJ Open, showed that after taking account potentially influencing factors, including marital status, self-rated health, physical activity levels and depressive symptoms, grandparents who took an active role in looking after grandchildren had lower scores on the loneliness and social isolation scales and a larger social network than grandparents who didn’t have an active role in caring for grandchildren.

The researchers point out that grandparents are increasingly helping out with childcare, although most of the research to date on grandparenting has looked at grandparents who act as surrogate parents to their grandchildren. Little research has focused on how helping with childcare might affect grandparents’ social network, although previous studies have suggested that a good social network may be a key factor in health and well-being, particularly as we get older, and that grandchild care can protect against depression and feelings of loneliness.

As an observational study the researchers note that they cannot establish cause and effect, however they suggest that, “Assisting their families to balance work and family by providing supplementary grandchild care may boost grandparents’ self-esteem, and may also facilitate ongoing positive relationships with their children and grandchildren.”

“Moreover, caring for grandchildren may also expand the social circle of grandparents and allow for further opportunities to establish relationships with other parents or grandparents.”

The team warn, however, that the positive effect of caring for grandkids could potentially wear off if grandparents are called upon too often, and particularly if this interferes with other areas of their own lives.

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