Many of us have now assumed certain grandparenting duties with joy and pleasure, especially if we do can them without the duress of becoming the primary care giver … Apparently there have been very few studies on what this role does to our cognitive health. So I read with great interest the article that appeared in this month’s journal of the North American Menopause Society (aptly named Menopause).
The title of the article is “Role of grandparenting in postmenopausal women’s cognitive health: results from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project”. The participants included 186 Australian women from a larger prospective aging study. This portion of the study was meant to examine the disuse hypothesis, also known as ” the use it or lose it” hypothesis that proposes that decreases in activity with age results in the disuse of cognitive mechanisms, which then cause a decline in cognitive abilities. We know that as we get older, large social networks or high levels of social activities can improve cognitive function, help diminish cognitive decline and even lower the risk of developing dementia. So does grandparenting fulfill this function?
A questionnaire was administered to the participants in 2004. They were asked whether they had grandchildren, if they were currently minding their grandchildren, and, if so, how much time they spent minding their grandchildren. Participants were also asked if they felt that their children have been particularly demanding of them in the past 12 month. Cognitive tests were later administered (I won’t bore you with the types and the questions) and their verbal memory and executive function were assessed. There were 131 grandmothers in the sample and those who spent time minding grandchildren (111) were more likely to be employed than those who did not. There was no significant difference in age, number of grandchildren or education between the participants. No significant differences in performance in any of the tests were observed between grandmothers and non-grandmothers; there were also no significant differences between participants who were minding grandchildren and those who were not. The only differences that were found were that participants who spent one day a week minding their grandchildren had the highest cognitive performance in all the tests and those who did so for five days or more per week had the lowest test scores. Frequent grandparenting apparently predicted lower processing speed and working memory performance. Moreover, those who had to perform this “task” almost daily reported more feelings of resentment.
Does this mean that too much of a grandparenting role may not be good for our cognitive health? Although this article was published in a peer reviewed journal, I feel the study is too small to make that assumption. There’s no question that if one has to take care for grandchildren without a respite it can be tiring both physically and mentally. Those in the study who “minded” their grandchildren five days a week or more may have had no choice and indeed minded. Their mood and perhaps fatigue may have adversely impacted their cognitive test results.
I have to stop now and take my granddaughter to her dance class. The drive might be mind numbing but watching her perform is not. This is not a daily “task”, so I assume my cognitive abilities will remain intact.