Grandparent-Adult Grandchild Bond Cancels Out Depression Systems
August 12, 2013

Grandparent-Adult Grandchild Bond Cancels Out Depression Symptoms

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A study presented today at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in New York City indicated that grandparents and grandchildren can have a significant beneficial psychological effect on each other.

"We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations," said study co-author Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College. "The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health."

Moorman’s study also found that grandparents’ giving or receiving tangible support, such as a ride to the store or help with household chores, with their grandchildren led to significant psychological effects.

"Grandparents who experienced the sharpest increases in depressive symptoms over time received tangible support, but did not give it," Moorman said. "There's a saying, 'It's better to give than to receive.' Our results support that folk wisdom — 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,” she added.

In the study, researchers tracked the mental health of almost 380 grandparents and 340 grandchildren from 1985 to 2004 using surveys that were taken every few years. The survey asked how often participants helped each other out with household chores and rides to the doctor or grocery store. The surveys also asked how well participants got along and how often they felt symptoms of depression.

Researchers found that grandparents who both gave and received tangible support had the fewest symptoms of depression over the course of the study.

"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," Moorman said.

The Boston College sociologist said her research indicates that families should try to include every generation in even the most mundane of activities or daily duties when possible.

"Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another's daily lives throughout adulthood," she said.

Moorman added that it is also important to keep older family members as independent as possible in order to maintain their psychological well-being.

"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."

Signs of depression can be difficult to spot, but they include loss of appetite, irritability and decreased concentration. These symptoms can often be confused with signs of aging. Because of stigmas associated with depression, the condition often goes untreated.