December 27, 2019
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Grandparents who care for grandchildren less likely to feel isolated, lonely

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Grandparents who are active in the lives of their grandchildren may have a decreased risk for loneliness and social isolation, according to results of a cross-sectional study conducted in Germany and published in BMJ Open.

“There is growing evidence that loneliness and social network size are important for health outcomes and mortality,” Eleanor Quirke, a postgraduate student in the department for health economics and health services research at Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital, Germany, told Healio Psychiatry. “Furthermore, social activities, such as providing care as a grandparent, are important aspects of successful ageing. This study therefore adds to the knowledge on lifestyle factors that are protective in the later stages of life.”

According to Quirke and colleagues, much of the previous research in this area focused on grandparents who act as surrogate parents to their grandchildren, yet it is much more common for grandparents to supply supplemental care. They also noted that no prior research has explored the effect from grandparenting and the size of an individual’s social network, with potential implications for well-being and health.

To address these gaps, the researchers obtained cross-sectional survey data from a population-based sample of 3,849 community-dwelling adults in Germany aged 40 years or older. Approximately 80% of respondents were married or living together with a spouse, approximately half were female and the mean age among those who cared for grandchildren was about age 66 years. According to the De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale, those who cared for a grandchild had a mean loneliness score of 7.7. The Bude and Lantermann scale measure of social isolation revealed that those in this group had a mean social isolation score of 1.6, and they also had a mean number of six people with whom they engaged in regular contact. Those who did not care for a grandchild reported a mean loneliness score of 1.8, and the mean number of important regular contacts was 4.8. The researchers confirmed these associations using linear regressions and a sensitivity analysis.

“Caring for grandchildren may therefore have a positive effect on one’s interaction and relations with others,” Quirke said. “We felt the findings add an interesting perspective to the ongoing debate on the link between providing grandchild care and health and social outcomes. – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.