After a 20-year-study researchers at the University of Melbourne reported postmenopausal women who took care of their grandchildren one day a week had better memory and faster cognitive speed than those who didn’t. No big news there at least to anyone who has babysat several lively toddlers at once. Speedy thinking is required to juggle a three-year-old tamping Fruit Loops up his nose while sister leans over the bathroom sink squirting a shaving cream Santa beard on her face.
Researchers do, however, warn against over-using the generous nature of grandparents. They note women who cared for grandchildren five or more days a week had significantly slower processing speed, possibly because they felt exhausted. Is a masters degree necessary to arrive at that conclusion? Mothers may forget labour pains but not eyelid-drooping exhaustion of early parenting that lingers well into kids’ teen years.
“Social engagement, positive mood enhancement, ongoing learning and mental stimulation have all been shown to reduce the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s,” the researchers report. “Grandparenting contains all these components.” That’s good to know.
The cute or clever actions of toddlers positively enhance grandmothers’ moods, and staving off a dangerous or risky scenario before it can be carried out keeps Grandma thinking steps ahead of the little darlings. The variety of kids’ creative play is boundless. One successful skirting of disaster may not apply as is to their next foray into mayhem.
“Anxiety and stress can impair cognitive performance,” the researchers say. And who would argue with that? Remember when you had a toddler or two to keep up with, you got only a few hours of sleep every night, and were lucky if that wasn’t interrupted for a feeding, or diaper change? As a young parent you might have been overwhelmed by utility bills, unexpected medical costs, a shortage of daylight hours to keep up with laundry, shopping, and all the chores that comprise raising a family.
When my grandchildren were born, I was approaching 60. But I was still limber enough in joints and mind to play board games sitting on the carpet or bike with them, help them with math homework, coach them to bake cookies and apple pies, play basic piano and Fish, sing Christmas carols.
Now the mentoring shoe is on the other foot. When I’m stuck for a name or a word, by feeding them clues they usually can supply me with the names of actors, writers or musicians I want to speak about. At lunch, they quietly add from the fridge or cupboard anything I’ve forgotten to set on the table.
The Melbourne researchers’ advise, “Rather than focusing on disease and lack of function as we age, focus more on our health.”
In TV ads, inspirational disabled people emphasize “It’s not what you can’t do; it’s what you can do.” My health focus centers on eating well, and daily exercise in the form of a walk with my dogs. While I might skip an occasional walk if I were alone, I cannot disappoint them. Our walk is the high point of their day.
I do wonder, though, about researchers’ motivation for this study. Was it solely to find a way to hold off Alzheimer’s, or to persuade Grandma to babysit?
Whatever their motive, if their study helps grandparents to stay fully cognitive through their last years, the study will have been useful.
The obituary of 86-year-old Maya Angelou in the Hollywood Reporter reads, “Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belaboured by a loss of acuity or comprehension.”
Would that all seniors enjoyed cognitive acuity until their final breath.