Grandmas Stay Sharp by Babysitting - But Don't Overdo It

Babysitting the grandkids can help boost Grandma's brainpower, but doing it too much may have the opposite effect - possibly because Grandma is feeling resentful, new research finds.

The study of 120 Australian grandmothers, ages 57 to 68, wanted to determine whether minding grandchildren played a role in helping postmenopausal women stay sharp as they aged. Previous research had shown that staying involved in social activities with friends or relatives helps improve cognitive function in older adults.

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The new study was published online April 8 in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), and is "the first report on the effect of grandparenting on women's cognitive health," NAMS Executive Director Margery Gass, M.D., said in an email.

The researchers found that those who spent one day a week looking after their grandkids did the best on tests of their cognitive skills. But those taking care of grandchildren five or more days a week experienced a brain drain. Those grandmas did significantly worse on a test measuring memory and mental-processing speed, an unexpected finding, researchers said.

The lower score may have had something to do with the grandmothers' feeling burdened, which then affected their mental sharpness, the study authors suggested in a news release. The women who babysat nearly every day told researchers they felt their children had been more demanding of them, compared with the reports of the grandmothers who babysat only once a week.

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"This study suggests that, for many women, a little grandmothering may be beneficial for brain function, while a lot may be detrimental," Gass told AARP. "Women should ask themselves how they really feel about the amount of care they are providing, and then decide if it is an appropriate amount for them."

Photo: aldomurillo/iStock

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