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Health & Medicine Study Ties Emotionally Close Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship to Fewer Symptoms of Depression

Study Ties Emotionally Close Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship to Fewer Symptoms of Depression

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First Posted: Aug 12, 2013 08:47 AM EDT
Depression Likely to Cause Difficulties With Parenting: Study
Depression Likely to Cause Difficulties With Parenting: Study (Photo : Reuters)

A new study reveals that the relationship shared between grandparents and adult grandchildren does have a measurable effect on each other's psychological well being.

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The study conducted by researchers from Boston College states that the grandparent's psychological well being was affected by the tangible support they gave or received from their grandchildren.

"We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations," said 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."

Tangible support that is also known as functional solidarity or instrumental support includes everything. It could be something as simple as a ride to the store or money to assist with household tasks.

"Grandparents who experienced the sharpest increases in depressive symptoms over time received tangible support, but did not give it," said Moorman, who co-authored the study with Jeffrey E. Stokes, a PhD candidate in sociology at Boston College. "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."

The researchers noticed that those grandparents who gave and received tangible support experienced less symptoms of depression over a period of time. A simple way to reduce depression in older adults is to encourage grandparents and adult grandchildren to get involved in such exchanges.

The study was based on the data that surveyed third and fourth generation U.S. families that was collected between 1985-2004. The survey was done on 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren.  The average age of the grandparents was 77 years and that of grandchildren, 31 years.

This study emphasizes that the need to strengthen families must not end with nuclear families.

"Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another's daily lives throughout adulthood," she said.

The study will be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

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