Brain Boost For Grandmothers Who Occasionally Care Of Grandchildren
April 9, 2014

Caring For Grandchildren Can Slow Cognitive Aging In Women, But Only In Smaller Doses

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Grandmothers can help prevent cognitive decay and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by taking care of their grandchildren one day per week, according to new research published online Tuesday in the journal Menopause.

However, taking care of their grandchildren five days per week or more actually had some negative impact on the cognitive function of 186 Australian women between the ages of 57 and 68 involved in the study.

“We know that older women who are socially engaged have better cognitive function and a lower risk of developing dementia later, but too much of a good thing just might be bad,” North American Menopause Society (NAMS) executive director Dr. Margery Gass explained in a statement.

The women took three different tests of mental sharpness, and also told the researchers whether or not they felt as if their own children had been especially demanding of them over the past year. Of the 120 grandmothers in the study, those who cared for their grandchildren one day per week performed best on two of those three tests.

However, much to the authors’ surprise, grandmothers who cared for their grandchildren for at least five days per week did significantly worse on a test that measured those women’s mental processing speed and working memory. The investigation also revealed that the more time grandmothers spent taking care of grandkids, they more they felt that their own children had been more demanding of them, suggesting that mood could be a factor in this finding.

The women’s cognitive abilities were assessed using the Symbol-Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), California Verbal Learning Test, and Tower of London, and the authors say their findings could indicate that highly frequent grandparenting predicts lower mental performance. They are planning to follow up with additional research.

While previous studies have looked at the link between cognitive sharpness and social engagement, this is the first time that experts have looked at grandmothering. Since caring for grandchildren is “such an important and common social role for postmenopausal women,” Dr. Gass said that it was important “to know more about its effects on their future health.” She added that this new study was “a good start” towards accomplishing that goal.

Last August, researchers from Case Western Reserve University reported that grandmothers who were their household’s primary caregivers were more likely to suffer from depression. However, being a full-time caregiver had no negative impact on their resourcefulness or willingness to receive assistance.