How grandparents impact your health
We all need to be needed at some point in our lives, and a new study shows that when that need is reciprocal between grandparent and adult grandchild, both reap the benefits.
Results of the study, presented as a paper in August at the American Sociological Association’s 108th annual meeting in New York, revealed that grandparents and grandchildren have real measurable effects on each other’s psychological well-being long into grandchildren’s adulthood.
“We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations,” said a co-author of the study, Sara Moorman in a statement. “The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health,” she added.
The sample of participants included 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren. The average age of the grandparents was 77, while the average age of the grandchildren was 31. Researchers used data from a survey of three- and four-generation U.S. families that included seven waves of data collection between 1985 and 2004, a part of the Longitudinal Study of Generations.
According to the study, giving tangible support or receiving it from their grandchildren only affected the well-being of the grandparents, but not the grandchildren. Tangible support, or instrumental support, included anything from rides to the store and money to assistance with household chores and advice.
“There’s a saying, ‘It’s better to give than to receive.’ Our results support that folk wisdom,” said Moorman, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College.
“If a grandparent gets help, but can’t give it, he or she feels badly. Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown, and it’s frustrating and depressing for them to instead be dependent on their grandchildren.”
In comparison, researchers found that those grandparents who both gave and received tangible support experienced the fewest symptoms of depression over time. “Therefore, encouraging more grandparents and adult grandchildren to engage in this type of exchange may be a fruitful way to reduce depression in older adults,” said Moorman.
She added that her research suggests that efforts to strengthen families shouldn’t stop with the nuclear family or focus only on families with younger children. “Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another’s daily lives throughout adulthood,” she said.
Helping older people remain functionally independent may help their psychological well-being, said Moorman. “Most of us have been raised to believe that the way to show respect to older family members is to be solicitous and to take care of their every need,” Moorman said. “But all people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile and independent. In other words, let granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he’s on Social Security and you’ve held a real job for years now.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.