It’s hard not to love grandparents. They’re sweet, they adore their grandkids, and they have more than enough love to share! But unfortunately, with their old age comes a lot of potential problems, typically to do with physical and mental decline. It can be challenging to think of the difficulties grandparents face as they grow older.
But did you know that grandparents can extend their lifespans just by being grandparents? Recent research reveals that spending regular amounts of time with their little ones can improve their overall longevity!
Researchers Reveal Grandparents Who Babysit Live Longer Than Those Who Don’t
1. The Study
The study concerning this exciting phenomenon is entitled “Caregiving within and beyond the family is associated with lower mortality for the caregiver: A prospective study.” It was published in Evolution and Human Behavior in 2016. The authors, in alphabetical order, are:
- David A. Coall – Edith Cowan University and University of Western Australia
- Denis Gerstorf – Humboldt University
- Ralph Hertwig – Max Planck Institute for Human Development
- Sonja Hilbrand (lead author) – University of Basel and Max Planck Institute for Human Development
The study was of a prospective cohort variety. Its aim was simple: to determine the relationship between life expectancy and caregiving duties provided by grandparents, whether to their relatives or others. But why focus on this specific topic?
Several studies have indicated that just being a grandparent can have positive benefits on overall health. But at the same time, there are conflicting studies that suggest that some grandparents wind up dealing with the opposite. This is especially true when they wind up needing to care for their grandchildren for prolonged periods. (1)
To add some clarity to these contradictory findings, researchers aimed to focus solely on mortality and its links to grandparents and their family relationships. Researchers did their best to keep an eye on most variables.
2. Study Methods
This study was conducted with a simple method over multiple years. Here are some details about the study methods.
Researchers referred to Berlin Aging Study data, also known as BASE. They collected and recorded information regarding health details and social interactions and conditions. They also recorded information regarding the younger family of grandparents.
Researchers selected participants within the BASE system randomly. They pulled the participant data from the records of the registration office in West Berlin. They were all aged 70 or older, and there were 516 total.
· Information From Participants
Participants would attend medical examinations and interviews, each conducted in their own homes or with their doctors in hospitals or other practice locations. Some individuals were grandparents while others were not, allowing for valuable comparison data.
It is worth noting that none of these participants were official or permanent guardians with primary custody of these grandchildren. This prevented inconsistent data review.
· Specific Questions
Participants were asked to provide details regarding their caregiving activities in the past year. “Caregiving” in the context of this study was described as spending time with a grandchild – whether to watch over them or for bonding time – without that child’s parents being present.
Participants provided their information on a scale of seven, with a ranking of 1, meaning they had never performed caregiving tasks, and 7, meaning they did so daily. Individuals without grandchildren were scored “1” by default.
Participants attended these tests and interviews every two years, beginning in 1990 and ending in 2009. As such, the study was conducted over a long span of 20 years, and it reached completion in 2016.
Participants who passed away were recorded, as mortality-related information was the heart of the study. The time to death after an interview was noted down and used as a mortality figure.
· Interpreting Data
Analyses were performed statistically over the data collected. The total life expectancy of grandparents who performed caregiving activities, grandparents who did not, and participants who were not grandparents were all compared.
Data was additionally controlled within certain variables, accounting for each participant’s age, state of health, socioeconomic position, and certain features of their grandkids and the parents of their grandkids.
Because participants answered interviews, there is a chance of data becoming compromised by recall bias. In addition, although researchers did their best to keep all variables in check, some errors in recording data may still have occurred, as with many studies of this variety.
3. Study Results
Of the 516 participants, 80 grandparents participated in caregiving activities. Grandparents who did not take on caregiver duties numbered 232 people in total. Participants who were not grandparents at all totaled 204.
But what were the results? Was there any link found between caregiving activities and mortality rates? As it turns out, there just might be! Researchers made the necessary adjustments to make their results as accurate as possible, and they found the following:
- Grandparents who take part in caregiving activities face a 37% lower mortality risk when compared to grandparents who do not.
- Those grandparents who take part in caregiving activities face a 37% lower mortality risk when compared to those who are not grandparents.
- Grandparents who do not take part in caregiving activities have the same mortality risk as those who are not grandparents.
- Those who are not grandparents face a 57% lower mortality risk when they assist their children (as adults) when compared to those who are not grandparents and do not provide assistance to their children as adults.
- Those who are not grandparents face a 60% lower mortality risk when they provide support or help to other individuals when compared to those who are not grandparents and do not provide support or help to other individuals.
Based on these results, researchers concluded that all individuals who provide support or help to others, whether their grandchildren, children or other random people, would have a higher chance of better life longevity. As such, helping actions may be the key to better mortality.
4. Potential Issues With This Research
As with all research done in any way, some issues exist that can affect the overall reliability of the findings. This study is no exception. The issues are as follows:
· Some Variables Were Unexplored
Researchers did not take note of the cause of death of any of their participants. They also did not deeply explore issues regarding the participants’ current mental health, physical health, or other similar issues.
· Memory Issues
Participants answered interview questions bi-annually, leaving plenty of room for them to forget details or fall victim to recall bias. There is virtually no way to verify their claims.
516 seems like a lot of people, but it is a relatively small sample size for any study. Only 80 individuals were grandparents with caregiving responsibilities. Larger studies may be able to achieve more accurate results.
· The Study Was Observational
The difficulty with studies conducted in an observational method is that there is no definitive way to prove a cause-and-effect scenario. There is no way to determine that these results truly cause and effect and are not mere correlations.
Does this mean these results are inherently not trustworthy? Of course not! But, as with all studies, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Regardless, you should still view this study with positive thinking, appreciate its message, and perhaps apply it to your own life!
5. Why Do Those Who Support Others Live Longer?
So, why exactly does babysitting, helping, or supporting others lead to longer lifespans? More research is necessary for fully cohesive answers, but there are plenty of potential reasons you may be able to think of. Here are some of them:
· More Frequent Learning
A grandparent who looks after their children will often join them in certain brain-boosting activities. They may play games with them, help them finish puzzles, or provide homework assistance.
This means that grandparents who do this don’t stop learning. This reduces their risk of developing issues related to cognitive decline and has a positive effect on their memory and thinking skills overall. (2)
· Increased Activity
Playing with a grandchild, going for a stroll with them, or bringing them outdoors all increase the activity level of a grandparent. Keeping active is important for overall health and can contribute to a longer lifespan.
Even if you don’t have grandchildren, you should ensure you’re getting a little physical activity every day. Just going for a walk can do wonders.
· Better Motivation
Senior citizens who are left on their own and do not have an active social life often lose the desire to live their everyday lives to their fullest. Those who have other people in their lives tend to be more eager to take care of themselves.
In addition, helping others can give older individuals a sense of purpose. Once they retire, senior citizens sometimes experience difficulty in finding things for them to do. Supporting people around them can give their lives a direction to follow.
Social interaction can have huge positive effects on someone’s body and mind. It helps to keep the mind sharp, improving memory and preventing mental decline. It can also help older individuals find friends – they may meet other grandparents or people their age in their helping efforts.
· Lower Depression Rates
Studies have indicated that grandparents who are close to their children and grandchildren and have close emotional bonds with them experience better positive thinking. They have a lower chance of developing depression or symptoms of depression, likely because they receive and give emotional support to and from others. (3)
Final Thoughts On Why Grandparents Who Babysit Live Longer Than Those Who Don’t
As it turns out, one of the best ways to help your grandparents live longer is simply by spending time with them! It’s definitely one of those solutions that will be easy for many people to put into practice. So, if you love your elders, drop by for a meal or just to hang out every so often!
If you’re a senior citizen yourself and you don’t have grandchildren, then don’t despair! Get involved in your community. Reach out to friends or make new ones. Join a club or class to meet new people. You’ll enjoy all the same benefits!