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Advice & More August 2014

Grandkids Make You Smarter… Till They Don’t

By Teresa Ambord

The study also showed that women who cared for their grandkids five or more days a week got much lower scores, a good indication that they were stressed out, stretched thin by too much responsibility at a time in life when they should have less responsibility.

Your grandkids may be a joy to be around. But did you know… they may be keeping your mind sharper as well? At least studies show this is true for “women of a certain age.” It’s probably true for men too, but the studies were specifically conducted on women, so… sorry guys.

The research was conducted in Australia, on a group of 186 women, ages 57 to 68. Two-thirds of the women had grandkids, and all were post-menopausal. The women were given three mental assessment tests to measure their cognitive abilities. Those who scored the highest were the women who spent one day a week caring for the grandkids. Why? There were no definite conclusions, but the belief is grandmothers who help care for the children have less likelihood of developing disorders which affect memory and result in dementia.

“We know that older women who are socially engaged have better cognitive function and a lower risk of developing dementia later. But too much of a good thing just might be bad,” said Margery Gass, of the North American Menopause Society.


A Little Caregiving is Good for Grandma

After menopause, authorities say, women are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s and disorders that affect mental sharpness. Being a caregiver to children is an important social role for post-menopausal women, so researchers are continuing to look at the relationship between social engagement, and mental ability.

Suppose you have no grandkids, or at least none young enough to require day care? You might consider volunteering your time, helping out at a school, or in the nursery of your church. I have no grandchildren as yet. But through my church I work with 8-year-old girls once a week, and once a month I help with 4 and 5 year olds on Sunday morning.

Does working with those kids reduce my chances of dementia? I don’t know about that. After all, I have been known to duck into the bathroom at the grocery store when I realized my blouse was inside out… more than a few times. But I do know that helping with the children makes me feel exhilarated and happy. I always leave feeling like I got more than I gave.


If a Little Does a Little Good...

So with all this said, you might think: if a little caregiving does a little good, a lot of taking care of the kids would do a lot of good. That would be wrong. The study also showed that women who cared for their grandkids five or more days a week got much lower scores, a good indication that they were stressed out, stretched thin by too much responsibility at a time in life when they should have less responsibility.

The fact is, with the economy still under stress, more adult children are turning to Mom and Pop to provide free or nearly free child care. And a lot of those grandparents report that their children don’t really even ask, they just assume the grandparents will give up their retirement life or even quit jobs, to watch the kids full time.

What about costs involved in taking the kids, like extra food, diapers and other supplies? Again, many adult children simply expect their parents will bear these costs and make little or no attempt to reimburse Grandma and Grandpa.

If that sounds like your situation, it may be past time to have a talk. Helping out in an emergency is one thing, but becoming the full-time babysitter, possibly without any pay for it or reimbursement for costs, is a lot to ask.


Take a Stand

How about agreeing to lower the overall cost of child care by taking the kids one day a week, and occasionally a bit more? If you enjoy having the kids stay over, maybe offer a couple of evenings a month so the parents can have a date night. Or combine the two and keep the kids all day on Friday while the parents work, and then let the kids stay overnight. The parents can have an evening to themselves, and pick up the children in the morning. That’s pretty generous, and protects your well-being while helping to keep you young too.

If you are currently the sole day care provider, it may be time to let your kids know:  time’s almost up. Perhaps you could set a limit, stating you’ll continue in this role for one more month. And after that, one day a week only. Also if you are not being reimbursed for food costs, diapers etc., maybe it’s time to address the subject if the cost is putting a dent in your limited income. Ask your daughter or son to supply food/diapers/whatever for the children. Or conversely to reimburse you for what you spend. They may be stretched financially, but ultimately the children are their responsibility.


Have You Heard of Foster Grandparents?

Foster Grandparents is a program for seniors age 60 and up. Those who qualify can volunteer a minimum of 15 hours a week, in schools, day care centers, hospitals, and schools. Foster Grandparents receive a small monthly stipend, and possibly transportation cost. It might be more time than you want to spend caregiving, but it does provide a little mad money.

I used to work for a not-for-profit which served seniors, and included a Foster Grandparent program. The pay wasn’t bad. The Foster Grandparents, male and female, were mostly very well loved in the schools. My own son had a Foster Grandma in his kindergarten. Many of the students had sad family lives, and the hugs that Grandma passed out were the only healthy affection they got.

Does that sound like something you’d like to do? You can find out if your area has a Foster Grandparent program by logging onto and typing in, “foster grandparent.”


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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