Whether you’re hanging out with your grandchildren because you just can’t get enough of them or because your children need help with childcare, spending time with the younger generation might have an important health benefit: keeping you mentally sharp. According to a recent study conducted in Australia, grandparenting has measurable mental benefits for older women.
According to the National Institute on Aging (nia.nih.gov), social engagement may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease as we age. If you’re a grandmother, you likely know that caring for your grandchildren can be natural and very rewarding way to stay socially engaged. There’s now evidence that grandparenting in particular is one form of social engagement that can help keep your mind working well.
Australian researchers studied 186 grandmothers, using various methods to measure their cognitive abilities, including memory and mental processing. They found that women who cared for their grandchildren one day per week scored the best in cognitive and verbal learning tests, suggesting a mental benefit of some hands-on grandparenting.
These findings don’t, however, suggest that grandmothers should double up on babysitting hours. In fact, it appears that you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to grandparent duties: Women in this study who cared for their grandchildren five days of more per week showed lower cognitive ability than grandmothers on the once-a-week schedule.
It’s not clear why more frequent grandparenting might dull mental abilities, but researchers did speculate that these women felt more demands from their families to help with grandchildren and, as a result, stress and other emotional factors could be affective their cognitive abilities.
The good news here may be twofold for many grandmothers. On one hand, it’s great to know that cherished time with the grandkids may be keeping your mind sharp while warming your heart. And on the other, if almost daily grandparenting might tax your mind and memory, you have a great excuse not to go overboard with babysitting duties.
 Burn KF, Henderson VW, Ames D, Dennerstein L, Szoeke C. Role of Grandparenting in Postmenopausal Women’s Cognitive Health: Results from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project. Menopause [early online publication]. April 2014.