‘Active grandparenting’ linked to lower risk of loneliness and social isolation

Grandparents who help care for their grandchild feel less lonely and more social, a study suggests.

“Active grandparenting” is linked to a lower risk of loneliness and a larger social network, researchers in Germany found.

Researchers analysed data from part of the DEAS survey of German adults aged 40-85.

Among the 3,849 grandparents, 1,125 said they had looked after a grandchild.

Just over half were women and most were married and living with their partner (80%).

The participants were asked to rank on a scale how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements designed to assess their feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Those who scored higher had a higher degree of perceived loneliness and social isolation.

Active grandparents scored an average loneliness score of 1.7, and an average social isolation score of 1.6, and were in regular contact with an average of six people.

Grandparents who were not active carers had a higher average loneliness score (1.8) and were in regular contact with four to five people.

The findings were reached after taking into account potentially influential factors such as marital status, domestic arrangements, household income and physical activity levels.

The researchers say: “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.

“Moreover, caring for grandchildren may also expand the social circle of grandparents and allow for further opportunities to establish relationships with other parents or grandparents.

“However, as grandparents become obligated to provide more intensive grandchild care, they may feel overburdened by the responsibility and less able to engage in other aspects of their lives.”

The authors add that “it is difficult to draw conclusions regarding the direction of this relationship”.

The observational study cannot establish cause, and the authors say it may be the case that older people who felt more lonely initially were more likely to step in to care for a grandchild.

Other factors which the survey did not track could have influenced the findings, including how close the grandparents lived to their grandchildren and how often they provided care.

The paper is published in the journal BMJ Open.

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