For grandparents who pride themselves on being Babysitter-in-Chief, we have good news: a recent study from Germany found that seniors who look after their grandkids may actually live longer.
The study, which examined data from hundreds of seniors age 70 and older, saw a significantly lower risk of death over a 20-year period for those who provide some childcare.
According to Florida Hospital geriatrician Ariel Cole, MD, making a contribution to family and loved ones can benefit seniors both physically and emotionally. “I suspect that meaningful relationships and meaningful work help provide a purpose for older adults,” says Dr. Cole.
“So many seniors come in to talk about medical problems, and their eyes just brighten when I ask about their family, and they show me pictures of their grandchildren. Family is what brings joy to life.”
That joy and sense of fulfillment are the very reason why interpersonal relationships are the sixth pillar of Florida Hospital’s CREATION Health model. Study after study shows that social connectedness provides emotional support, reduces stress and has positive impacts on our overall well-being – even lowering the risk of numerous diseases.
A separate study in Australia recently found that babysitting grandchildren even a moderate amount can help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. That’s likely because regular interaction with loved ones boosts brain activity and stimulates memory, as seniors take on a role of “teacher” to their grandkids.
“Interpersonal relationships are important to all people of all ages, but they become harder to maintain as we get older,” says Dr. Cole. “We can become more isolated as siblings, spouses, and friends become ill and pass away, and we begin to lose those built-in social structures.”
For that reason, it’s important for seniors to actively seek out social involvement, whether through babysitting or other means. “One marker of successful aging is remaining socially engaged – finding activities and other people with similar interests,” Dr. Cole continues. “There are many opportunities for this, from faith communities to programs and centers for older adults.”
In addition to the emotional perks, caring for a child can give seniors a healthy dose of physical activity, too. But before you go chasing toddlers around, be mindful of your physical limitations. Says Dr. Cole: “I would encourage anyone considering taking on a role as a caregiver to talk to their doctor first, and build up to it, rather than going from zero to 100.”
Even if you don’t have grandkids nearby, you can get those same benefits by helping children in your community. “Families are fragmented in this culture of moving for jobs, especially here in Florida,” says Dr. Cole. “It can leave a void [for families] and an opportunity for older adults to step in and be a ‘substitute grandparent’ in their neighborhood for families that are geographically separated.”