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Grandparent role can boost social links

Wednesday December 18th, 2019

Caring for a grandchild can increase the size of an individual’s social network and protect against loneliness, German researchers say today.

The study appears in BMJ Open today (18 December). A team led by Eleanor Quirke at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital in Germany, looked at the potential link using figures from people aged 40 years or above living in Germany.

The team measured loneliness and social isolation with reliable questionnaires. This showed lower loneliness and social isolation scores among those caring for a grandchild.

“Findings indicate a positive association between undertaking the care of a grandchild and the size of an individual’s social network, and a negative association between grandchild care and self-rated scores of loneliness and social isolation,” the team reports.

They add: “These findings build on existing research into the social and health implications of grandchild care among grandparents”.

The authors explain that almost 50% of grandparents in the USA and Europe provide some degree of childcare, although the proportions vary between countries.

They state: “The grandparent role has been described as an important and rewarding role among ageing individuals. Grandparenthood can be a source of rewards, such as company, feeling useful and discovering new abilities in oneself.”

The ‘role enhancement theory’ could be applied to those providing grandchild care, say the team. “Assisting their families to balance work and family by providing supplementary grandchild care may boost grandparents’ self-esteem, and may also facilitate ongoing positive relationships with their children and grandchildren.”

Quirke, E. et al. Association between caring for grandchildren and feelings of loneliness, social isolation and social network size: a cross sectional study of community dwelling adults in Germany. BMJ Open 18 December 2019; doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-029605

Tags: Elderly Health | Europe

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