Bond Between Grandparent and Grandchild Can Lower Risk for Depression

Recent research suggests that spending time with your grandparents might not only make them feel good, it may have positive psychological benefits for you both.  A new study shows that a good relationship between grandparents and their adult grandchildren was linked to fewer depression symptoms for both elderly and young adults.  The closer the bond, the more anti-depressive benefits were observed.

The data was presented August 12th at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association in New York.  “We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.  The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health,” Sara Moorman, assistant professor of sociology and in the Institute on Aging at Boston College, said in a press release.

Using the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which surveys families in Southern California about every three years, Dr. Moorman and her team looked at data from 1985 through 2004.  Their sample included 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren who were over the age of 16. The average grandparent was born in 1917 and the average grandchild was born in 1964, making them 77 and 31-years-old at the midway point of the study.

The researchers also discovered that grandparents who received “tangible support” but were unable to reciprocate with a grandchild actually experienced increases in depressive symptoms over time. Tangible support could be something as little as a ride to the grocery store or giving money to help with living expenses.

In contrast, grandparents who were able to both give and receive tangible support to a grandchild experienced the fewest symptoms of depression overall.  Among the subjects, those who offered advice, paid for meals from time to time and felt independent were happier, suggesting that a two-way supportive relationship in which both parties feel valued is best.  The study indicates that helping older people remain functionally independent may improve their psychological well-being.

“All people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent. In other words, let granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he’s on Social Security and you’ve held a real job for years now.  There’s a saying, ‘It’s better to give than to receive.’ Our results support that folk-wisdom if a grandparent gets help, but can’t give it, he or she feels badly.  Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown, and it’s frustrating and depressing for them to instead be dependent on their grandchildren,” Moorman explained.

Encouraging more grandparents and grandchildren to engage in this type of reciprocal relationship may be a beneficial way to reduce depression in older adults.