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Grandparent's brain on taking care of grandkids

Grandmas stay sharp when they care for grandkids once a week. Taking care of grandkids one day a week helps keep grandmothers mentally sharp, finds a study, "Role of grandparenting in postmenopausal women's cognitive health: results from the Women's Healthy Aging Project," from the Women's Healthy Aging Project study in Australia, published online April 7, 2014 in Menopause, the journal of The The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). That's good news for women after menopause, when women need to lower their risks of developing Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive disorders. The print version of the article will be published in the October 2014 issue of the print edition of Menopause.

Grandparent's brain on taking care of grandkids.
Anne Hart, knitting, photography, and novel.

On the other hand, taking care of grandchildren five days a week or more had some negative effects on tests of mental sharpness. "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," explains NAMS Executive Director Margery Gass, MD, according to the April 8, 2014 news release, "Grandmas stay sharp when they care for grandkids once a week."

There also are women who say, "I've raised my kids," and would rather spend certain years of their lives while they're still healthy enough to travel, traveling, or engaging in hobbies or learning, earning, or intellectual pursuits that they didn't have time to do when younger and raising the children

Yet a number of jobs offered to "grandmas" to use a generic term, offer women of a certain age and empty nest work taking care of the children of younger moms who are working outside their homes, which for some women, put them right back in the home after they've spent decades at home taking care of their own children. So not all women enjoy taking care of kids when they get older. Some just want to have fun and enjoy what they missed when younger and often at a lower income level than when at the usual retirement age.

In the new study, the 186 Australian women, ages 57 to 68, took three different tests of mental sharpness and also noted whether they thought their own children had been particularly demanding of them in the last year. Among the 120 grandmothers, those who spent one day a week taking care of grandchildren performed best on two of the three tests. But those taking care of grandchildren for five or more days a week did significantly worse on one of the tests, which assesses working memory and mental processing speed.

That was a finding the researchers didn't expect

Researchers also found that the more time grandmothers spent taking care of the grandchildren, the more they felt that their children had been more demanding of them, so maybe mood plays a role in the unexpected result. The investigators are already following up with more research.

Although other research has looked at the relationship between mental sharpness and being socially engaged, this is the first time that this type of research has looked at grandmothering. "Because grandmothering is such an important and common social role for postmenopausal women, we need to know more about its effects on their future health," says Dr. Gass, according to the April 8, 2014 news release, Grandmas stay sharp when they care for grandkids once a week. "This study is a good start."

Preserving aging cognition improves quality of life and delays dementia onset

Previous studies have shown that social engagement can maintain cognition; however, none has examined the effects of grandparenting, an important role among postmenopausal women. This study aims to examine the role of grandparenting in cognition among postmenopausal women, notes the study's abstract.

Participants were 186 Australian women from the longitudinal prospective Women's Healthy Aging Project. Cognition was assessed using the Symbol-Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), California Verbal Learning Test, and Tower of London, says the study's abstract.

Does the study suggest that one day a week, the grandkids can help make you mentally alert and ready to learn, but five days a week of childcare can cloud your thinking, memory, and learning ability?

Amount of time spent minding grandchildren predicted differences in Symbol-Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) performance. The highest cognitive scores for most tests were seen in participants who minded grandchildren for 1 day/week. Minding grandchildren for 1 day/week was also a significant positive predictor of California Verbal Learning Test immediate recall performance. However, minding grandchildren for 5 days or more per week predicted lower Symbol-Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) performance.

The data suggest that the highest cognitive performance is demonstrated by postmenopausal women who spend 1 day/week minding grandchildren. However, minding grandchildren for 5 days or more per week predicts lower working memory performance and processing speed.

These results indicate that highly frequent grandparenting predicts lower cognitive performance, the study's abstract explains

Now what happens when a great grandma is left with the great grandkids in her care? And how would that compare with the grandpa or great grandpa taking care of their children's grandkids one or more days a week? More research is needed to observe that phenomenon.

Founded in 1989, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) is North America's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the health and quality of life of all women during midlife and beyond through an understanding of menopause and healthy aging. Its multidisciplinary membership of 2,000 leaders in the field—including clinical and basic science experts from medicine, nursing, sociology, psychology, nutrition, anthropology, epidemiology, pharmacy, and education—makes NAMS uniquely qualified to serve as the definitive resource for health professionals and the public for accurate, unbiased information about menopause and healthy aging.

To learn more about NAMS, visit the website. You also may wish to check out these articles, 15 Fun Board Games that Exercise Your Brain And Make You Smarter, Napping Makes Kids Smarter -, Are You Smarter Than Your Grandfather? Probably Not. - Smithsonian, and Can Exercise Make You Smarter? | World of Psychology. Enjoying grandparenting also may have a lot to do with the amount of abuse the grandparent endured in his or her own childhood and whether or not the grandparent was a battered spouse in any prior marriage when the individual's children were small.

Also, some grandparents and great grandparents fear they don't have the energy to care for small children or even teenagers, but may welcome conversation with college-age or older grandchildren and enjoy vicarious events in their adult grandchildren's live such as graduation or hearing about weddings, even if they're not able to travel to the events. What it all comes down to is the individual grandparent or great grandparent and how the person perceives the energy required for the situation.

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