A new study from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found grandmothers who are a household’s primary caregiver are more likely to suffer from depression, but are highly receptive to assistance. In one of the longest-running studies of its kind, researchers focused on grandmothers in a variety of family situations, from being full-time caregivers to having no direct role in the care of their grandchildren. “Although we expected the primary caregiver grandmothers raising grandchildren would have more strain and depressive symptoms,” said co-author Carol Musil, a professor of nursing at Case Western, “we were surprised at how persistent these were over the years examined in the study.” According to Census data, 5.3 percent of all American households have a grandparent living in the house. Musil said more than 1 million grandmothers have the responsibility of directly raising grandchildren because their parents do not live in the home. In the study, which was published in the journal
Nursing Outlook, the researchers followed 240 randomly-selected grandmothers over six-and-a-half years to see how caring for their grandchildren 16 years and younger affected their well-being. For the first three years, participants, who averaged almost 58 years old, were surveyed about their physical and mental health annually. An additional two surveys were conducted between 2 and 2.5 years apart. Participants were divided into three caregiving situations: fulltime caregivers for their grandchildren, living in multigenerational households and non-caregivers. The women came from various backgrounds representing rural, suburban and urban Ohio. While participants showed signs of depression and stress, researchers found that a full-time caregiver situation had no effect on a grandmothers’ resourcefulness, and these women were generally open to receiving a variety of assistance. Musil said the study showed that grandmothers in a highly stressful situation might be open to resourcefulness training, which has
been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in pilot studies. “They need support from others,” she said, “but the most important thing is to maintain and perhaps develop new cognitive and behavioral skills and approaches for handling some very challenging family issues.” The Case Western study comes just after another study presented at the Sociological Association’s annual meeting in New York City indicated that a strong grandparent-grandchild bond can benefit both generations. “We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations,” said study co-author Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College. “The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health.” “Grandparents who experienced the sharpest increases in depressive symptoms over time received
tangible support, but did not give it,” Moorman added. “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.” This study was based on tracking the mental health of almost 380 grandparents and 340 grandchildren from 1985 to 2004 using surveys that were taken every few years.