In what will send cheers throughout the parenting community, a new paper suggest that helping care for grandchildren might affect the well-being of older adults. Caregivers' feelings partly depend on their perception of the experience, as well as on how they are treated by their family and by the community.  

The researchers looked at information from the "Population Study of Chinese Elderly (PINE)," which examined more than 3,000 Chicago-area Chinese-Americans aged 60 and older between 2011 and 2013. The participants answered questions to screen for depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and other factors affecting their health and well-being.

In their study, 35 percent (818) of the participants said they were caregivers for children and spent an average of about 12 hours a week on childcare.

To measure the level of caregiving pressure they experienced, participants were asked "How often do you feel take care of [your grandchildren]?" The participants answered questions about caregiving burdens, and whether they felt their own health was at risk due to caregiving. Researchers also determined how much positive or negative social support the grandparents received from family and friends.

The researchers discovered that 80 percent of the participants believed that caring for grandchildren was not a burden. Most participants reported never feeling pressured by their adult children and didn't experience any negative effects from caregiving. These grandparents were generally happier, and felt much less depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness compared to older adults who didn't care for grandchildren.
  • 40 percent more likely to have symptoms of depression
  • 20 percent more likely to feel anxious
  • 10 percent more likely to have stress
  • 60 percent more likely to feel lonely

However, grandparents who felt pressure from their adult children and who believed that they had no choice about providing care for grandchildren reported having higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress than people who didn't feel pressured. The grandparents who had negative feelings about caregiving reported a 50 percent increased rate of depression symptoms, 30 percent higher stress rates, and a 70 percent increase in loneliness.

"Caring for grandchildren can be a burden, a blessing, or both. Enjoy the time with your family and grandchildren--just be in control of how much time you spend caregiving," said study co-author Fengyan Tang, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh.