Grandma, Want to Lower your Risk of Alzheimer's? Babysit the Grandkids!

September 2, 2016

If you’re lucky enough to have grandparents willing and able to provide care for your children, you know how helpful having some extra help can be. While many grandparents consider babysitting a gift they offer you and their grandkids, a growing body of research suggests that offering occasional child care can also help your parents’ overall health. Not only do many grandparents receive a mood boost from interacting with the younger generation, but they might also be reducing the risk of cognitive decline when babysitting.

Brain Benefits of Grandparents Babysitting

One recent study published in Menopause found that babysitting for grandkids at least once a week was tied to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive problems for grandmothers. The study, which was based on research from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project in Australia, found that grandmothers who babysat performed better than non-babysitting grandparents on cognitive tests.

Regular Babysitting Diminishes Benefits

While weekly babysitting benefited the women studied, grandmothers who babysat five or more times a week didn’t receive the same cognitive benefits. Researchers theorized that the stress of regular babysitting could diminish the cognitive gains associated with interacting with grandkids.

The Children Benefit Too

A 2013 study found that the closer the bond between your parents and children, the lesser chance that either group would be diagnosed with depression. Hugs and kisses from their grandkids can also cause a release of oxycontin, which can boost your parents’ overall mood.

Other Health Benefits of Grandparents Babysitting

For grandparents who do decide to provide child care, research indicates that they benefit from having an important sense of purpose. This benefit remains even when the grandparents admit that child care can be tiring and stressful. In fact, grandparents who did not have regular interaction with their family had a 26 percent higher risk of death than those who regularly saw family members.

Your parents may also benefit physically from regularly interacting with their grandchildren. Holding hands and hugging kids can boost white blood cell counts and decrease inflammation. Other studies have found that seniors who have grandchildren are more likely to be physically active, which helps protect them from illness and physical decline.

Moderation is key, however, to good babysitting outcomes for both parties. Research that studied Chinese grandparents found that part-time child care was associated with increased health benefits, while full-time child care was linked to health declines. It just goes to show that grandparents, just like parents, need regular breaks in order to maintain their overall health.

Reasons Why Grandparents May Not Babysit

Even if your parents have a great relationship with their grandchildren, they still may be reluctant to babysit. The average age of a first-time grandparent is 52, so many grandparents are still working full-time jobs when their grandchildren are born. Plus, many grandparents also help support their grandkids financially: 62 percent report giving monetary gifts or financial support to their grandchildren.

Your parents may not feel they have the time to commit to regular babysitting while they’re still in the workforce. Other grandparents report that even if they’re not working, they don’t want to commit to regular babysitting due to hobbies and other interests. However, a University of Chicago study suggests that grandparents who babysit are more likely to be highly educated, employed and have more financial resources.

If your grandparents are older than average, they may find it taxing to care for younger children. Under the best of circumstances, young children need constant supervision and care, which can be overwhelming if grandparents babysit for more than a few hours. Of course, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can also evolve as the children grow.

While there are health, social and financial benefits to grandparents providing some child care, it’s important that you don’t pressure your parents to help. Not only does research indicate that grandparents who feel pressured don’t receive the same type of health benefits, but it’s not good for the health of your family relationships.

Many grandparents may not be willing to babysit, but there are several ways that they can build relationships with your kids. If your parents live close, encourage them to share hobbies and attend school events as your children grow. For long-distance grandparents, regular phone conversations and video chats can help nurture a bond with your kids.

Balancing the Needs of Grandparents and Grandchildren

While research indicates that grandparents and grandchildren benefit from regular interaction, the best child care solution is one that’s individually tailored to your specific circumstances. Talk with your spouse about the ideal role of grandparents in your children’s lives. Then discuss with your parents how involved they want to be with your kids and how you can facilitate that relationship.

If your parents are able to care for your child at least once a week, that time could provide an excellent way for your kids to bond with their grandparents. This time may also protect your parents from cognitive and physical decline. However, part-time child care is ideal for the health of both your parents and children. Relying on your parents for daily child care is often too stressful for them, and it deprives your child of some of the benefits of professional daycare, nannies and babysitters.

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