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Seeing The Grandparents Can Prevent Depression

Update Date: Aug 12, 2013 07:05 AM EDT

When was the last time you saw your grandma? New research reveals that hanging out with the grandparents can lower their and your risk of depression.

Scientists found that grandparents and grandchildren have real, measurable effects of each other's psychological wellbeing long into grandchildren's adulthood.

"We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations," Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College, said in a news release.

"The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health," she added.

Furthermore, giving or receiving tangible support improved the psychological wellbeing of grandparents. Tangible support or instrumental support includes anything from rides to the grocery store, assistance with household chores to advice.

"Grandparents who experienced the sharpest increases in depressive symptoms over time received tangible support, but did not give it," Moorman explained.

"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," she added.

On the other hand, grandparents who both gave and received tangible support experienced the fewest symptoms of depression over time.

"Therefore, encouraging more grandparents and adult grandchildren to engage in this type of exchange may be a fruitful way to reduce depression in older adults," said Moorman.

The study used data from the Longitudinal Study of Generations, a survey of 3- and 4-generation U.S. families that included seven waves of data collection between 1985 and 2004. The study involved 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren.  The average grandparent was born in 1917 and the average grandchild in 1963, making them 77 years old and 31 years old, respectively, at the midpoint of the study in 1994.

Researchers said the latest study suggests that efforts to strengthen family ties shouldn't stop with the nuclear family or focus only on families with younger children.

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

Researchers added that the findings also show that helping older people remain functionally independent may help boost their psychological wellbeing.

"Most of us have been raised to believe that the way to show respect to older family members is to be solicitous and to take care of their every need," Moorman said. "But all people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent. In other words, let granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he's on Social Security and you've held a real job for years now."

The findings will be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City.

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