The study, carried out by the Women’s Healthy Aging Project and published in the North American Menopause Society’s journal, assessed 120 Australian grandmothers between the ages of 57 and 68. Each woman took three tests of mental sharpness.
On two of the tests, the grandmothers who spent just one day a week looking after their grandchildren fared best. But on the test that examined mental processing speed and working memory, those who dedicated five days or more to their grandchildren’s care performed significantly worse.
The more time women spent watching their grandkids, the more they thought that their own children were asking of them, indicating that mood may have impacted the study results.
Most grandmothers spend a good deal of time looking after their grandchildren, but before this study, few stopped to consider whether this interaction had any effect — positive or negative — on the grandmothers themselves.
This study suggests that the caregiving has a positive effect, in moderation. An afternoon with the grandkids can be a fun opportunity to spend quality time together, but when that turns into a week of nonstop babysitting, it can quickly become a source of stress.
Of course, we already knew that spending time with others was linked with increased mental sharpness; perceived social isolation increases risk of cognitive decline. Now we have research to support that grandmothers should spend some of that time with their grandchildren.
The good news is that grandmothers will surely have plenty of opportunities to get in social time with their grandkids, and can even make this time both mentally and physically beneficial with activities that get their heart rate up. And if their children start asking for a babysitter a little too often, they have a science-backed excuse to say no!
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