By Marta Gonzalez Catalan (Graduate Student, Palo Alto University) and Rowena Gomez, PhD (Professor and Director of Clinical Training in Psychology, Palo Alto University)
Did you know recent research suggests taking care of your grandchildren at least once a week benefits grandparents’ overall mental health?1 How? You strengthen your brain by doing more mental activities that require using your memory, analyzing and managing a task in a fast pace.
This can protect against declines in cognition such as memory.2,3 In addition, having a more positive mindset, being more socially engaged and physically active, can translate into less declines in thinking skills such as memory, planning, and decision-making.2,3 It turns out, that grandparenting has all of these great features!
What are the emotional benefits of grandparenting for older adults?
Not only can grandparenting help you think better, it can help you feel better.4 Research shows that grandparenting helps older adults improve their family ties and their sense of worthiness, because they feel valued in that role.5,6
Grandparents also feel more confident when they realize they are physically able to play with their grandchildren.4,7 Taking care of grandchildren also helps seniors to be more socially engaged.4 This increase in social and active lifestyle can have the added benefit of improving thinking skills, such as memory.3
What are the mental health benefits of grandparenting for grandchildren?
Grandparenting is great for grandchildren, too! Experts have found that the positive attachment and relationship between grandparents and grandchildren has similar benefits as those between children and their parents. 8 They may reassure their grandchild´s healthy development and independence.
In addition, grandparents act as positive social role models and as a source of culture, religion, and tradition that can be very valuable in the child´s cultural sense of self.8
Overall to the child, grandparents become8:
- The storyteller,
- The child’s play partner, and
- The source of knowledge, values, and unconditional love.
What are the disadvantages of unbalanced grandparenting?
Despite these great advantages, there is the risk of “too much of a good thing.” Experts state that spending too much time caring for grandchildren may increase the risk of poorer health and mental health outcomes.1,2
For instance, Bowers & Myers (1999) reported that excess of stress and burden of grandparenting (5 or more days a week) can lead to excessive and chronic release of the stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can damage areas of the brain that are important for memory (e.g., remembering items on a shopping list), and control our impulsivity and emotions (e.g., becoming more easily upset).
In conclusion, balanced grandparenting has great emotional and mental health benefits to older adults and their grandchildren!
Grandparents (and grandchildren), tell us your personal experiences in the comments section!
For more on this topic, check out these related PsychCentral blog posts:
Challenges and Benefits for Grandparent Caregivers
Intergenerational Play Is Tie That Binds
More Grandparents Caring for Kids, But Quality Varies
1Burn, K. F., Henderson, V. W., Ames, D., Dennerstein, L., & Szoeke, C. (2014). Role of grandparenting in postmenopausal women’s cognitive health: results from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project. Menopause, 21(10), 1069-1074. doi: 10.1097/gme.0000000000000236
2Burn, K., & Szoeke, C. (2015). Grandparenting predicts late-life cognition: Results from the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project. Maturitas, 81(2), 317-322. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2015.03.013
3Hertzog, C., Kramer, A. F., Wilson, R. S., & Lindenberger, U. (2009). Enrichment effects on adult cognitive development. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 1–65. doi:10.1111/j.1539- 6053.2009.01034.x
4Arpino, B., & Bordone, V. (2014). Does grandparenting pay off? The effect of child care on grandparents’ cognitive functioning. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(2), 337-351. doi: 10.1111/jomf.12096
5Coall, D. A., & Hertwig, R. (2011). Grandparental investment: A relic of the past or a resource for the future? Psychological Science, 20 (2), 93–98. doi: 10.1177/0963721411403269
6Triadó, C., Villar, F., Solé, C., Celdrán, M., Pinazo, S., Conde, L., & Montoro Rodríguez, J. (2008). Las abuelas/os cuidadores de sus nietos/as: tareas de cuidado, beneficios y dificultades del rol. Psicología de la Infancia y la Adolescencia, 4, 455-464. doi: 10.1174/021037008785702938
7Grundy, E. M., Albala, C., Allen, E., Dangour, A. D., Elbourne, D., & Uauy, R. (2012). Grandparenting and psychosocial health among older Chileans: A longitudinal analysis. Aging and Mental Health, 16, 1047–1057. doi: 10.1080/ 13607863.2012.692766
8Planillo, A. H. (2004). Abuelos, abuelas, nietos y nietas. El punto de vista infantil. Indivisa: Boletín de estudios e investigación, 5, 35-42. http://www.redalyc.org/pdf/771/77100502.pdf
9Bowers, B. F., & Myers, B. J. (1999). Grandmothers providing care for grandchildren: Consequences of various levels of caregiving. Family Relations, 48 (3), 303-311. doi: 10.2307/585641
Marta Gonzalez Catalan is a second year graduate student in the Clinical Psychology PhD Program at Palo Alto University (PAU). Her clinical and research interests include neuropsychology, geropsychology, and diversity. She is also founding officer of the PAU student organization called Student Association of Gerontological Enrichment (SAGE).
Dr. Rowena Gomez is Director of Clinical Training for the PhD Clinical Psychology Program and Professor at Palo Alto University. Dr. Gomez’s research focus has been in geropsychology, neuropsychology, and depression.