Research: Does Babysitting Grandchildren Improve Your Memory?

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Grandparent with Granddaughter/ Sash Alexander Photography Collection: Moment /Getty Images.

Along with healthy eating, physical exercise and mental activity, do we need to add babysitting grandchildren to the list of ways to ward off dementia?

According to some recent research, maybe.

As part of the Women’s Healthy Aging Project in Australia, 186 postmenopausal women ages 57-68 participated in this study, 120 of whom were grandparents. The participants' cognition was tested using several different cognitive assessment tools.

They were also questioned as to how frequently they babysat their grandchildren.

The Results

Researchers involved in this study found that there appeared to be a sweet spot for cognition in terms of how often grandparents babysat their grandchildren. Women who babysat their grandchildren one day a week demonstrated the highest cognitive scores out of all participants, including those who did not babysit at all. Specifically, results showed that working memory benefited from grandparenting.

This study also concluded that there could be too much of a good thing, when it comes to grandchildren. Women who reported babysitting grandchildren 5 or more days per week demonstrated lower cognitive skills, specifically in memory, verbal fluency and processing speed. Researchers also noted that these women expressed more frustration with their role as a grandparent, likely due to being over-extended in the amount of caregiving.

Additional Research

Another study which used data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) research project found similar benefits of caring for grandchildren- without a notable loss of these benefits for those who did so on a daily basis.

This study involved 6,274 women between the ages of 50-80 who had at least one child.

Tests measuring verbal fluency, numeracy, immediate recall and delayed recall were utilized to assess cognition.

Initially, researchers noted that cognitive scores appeared lower for the grandparents who cared on a daily basis for grandchildren. However, they took a closer look at the data and noticed that daily care by grandparents was more likely to be performed by those grandparents who were older in age, retired, less involved in social activities and those with a lower level of education. The researchers concluded that these characteristics (which are risk factors for cognitive decline) influenced the results. After taking them into account, they determined that the only cognitive area negatively affected by daily caregiving was numeracy- the ability to calculate simple math problems. The authors of the study hypothesized that stress or fatigue of providing daily care may be playing a role in that area of cognition.

This study concluded that caring for grandchildren even on a daily basis did not negatively impact cognitive scores (other than the numeracy score) and actually improved some areas of cognitive ability.

In fact, they found that those who took daily care of grandchildren scored better on verbal fluency than those who cared for their grandchildren just once a week.

Why Might Caring for Grandchildren Help Your Brain?

One theory behind these results is that multiple previous research studies have demonstrated a correlation between social interaction and dementia risk reduction. Interaction with children could provide an important level of social interaction and mental activity which could be beneficial to the adult.

Sources:

Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association. Volume 10, Issue 4, Supplement, Pages P618-P618. Grandparenting is associated with cognitive functioning in older women: Results from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project.

Arpino, B. and Bordone, V. (2012) Does grandparenting pay off? The effect of childcare on grandparents’ cognitive functioning. http://www.oeaw.ac.at/vid/download/edrp_4_2012.pdf

Journal of Marriage and Family. Volume 76, Issue 2, pages 337–351, April 2014. Does Grandparenting Pay Off? The Effect of Child Care on Grandparents' Cognitive Functioning.

Maturitas. 2015-02-01Z, Volume 80, Issue 2, Pages 122-125. Is grandparenting a form of social engagement that benefits cognition in ageing? http://www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122%2814%2900334-X/abstract

Menopause:October 2014 - Volume 21 - Issue 10 - p 1069–1074. Role of grandparenting in postmenopausal women’s cognitive health: results from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project. http://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/Citation/2014/10000/Role_of_grandparenting_in_postmenopausal_women_s.7.aspx

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