Part-time grand-caring ‘adds years to life’

Ellie HoneyboneGeraldton Guardian
Di Gillleland and grandson Alexander, 4, visit a mare and her new foal.
Camera IconDi Gillleland and grandson Alexander, 4, visit a mare and her new foal. Credit: Ellie Honeybone

Spending time running around after your grandchildren might seem more appealing after a new study from Edith Cowan University revealed grandparents who take on babysitting duties can live up to five years longer than those who don’t.

The research showed 50 per cent of the grandparents who provided occasional care for their grandchildren or other members of the community lived for about five additional years after first being interviewed.

Geraldton grandparents Di and Dennis Gilleland agree with the results and believe caring for their grandchildren Alexander, 4, and Archer, 1, on a regular basis kept them youthful.

“We look after the kids at least a couple of times each week, sometimes just for the afternoon and sometimes overnight,” Mrs Gilleland said.

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“They make us laugh, and spending time with the boys allows us to do things we haven’t done in years, like jump on the slide at the playground or sit down to watch a kids’ movie.

“Caring for them stops us being old and grumpy and takes us back to the funny moments we had when our own children were the same age.”

Dr David Coall from ECU’s medical and health sciences school said the study showed care-giving helped improve longevity among older people.

“This research shows the positive link between care-giving and a longer lifespan in older people, however we can only speculate as to why,” he said.

“Previous research points to helping behaviour as a stress buffer which involves, for example, the hormone oxytocin, which can strengthen bonding between people.

“This link could be a mechanism deeply rooted in our evolutionary past when help with childcare was crucial for the survival of the human species.”

He said the research showed the benefits of caring also extended beyond grandchildren.

“Older people who cared for their own adult children or other members of the community showed the same increase in longevity,” he said.

Mr Gilleland said there was no better sound than hearing the children knock on the door at the start of a visit.

“We live close by our daughter and like to help out when she needs to go out or get stuck into her studies,” he said.

“Our time spent with the grandkids is always a pleasure and the bond we have built really is something special.”

Occasional care-giving is a good thing, however research has found negative physical and mental health effects for grandparents caring full-time for their grandchildren.

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