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The researchers looked at 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, and tracked their mental health from 1985 to 2004. They found that both grandparents and adult grandchildren who felt emotionally close to the other generation had fewer symptoms of depression.
“Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another’s daily lives throughout adulthood,” - study researcher Sara Moorman, professor of sociology at Boston College.
The relationships between extended family members may be more important today than they’ve ever been, the researchers said. As life expectancy is increasing, generations co-exist for unprecedentedly long periods of time, and they can be sources of support, or strain, across people’s lives, the researchers said.
The results showed that besides the positive mental-health effects of having an emotionally close relationship, it is important for grandparents to be able to reciprocate the help they receive from their grandchildren, according to the researchers.
“Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown,” - Moorman.
Among the participants, grandparents who felt independent, gave their grandchildren advice and bought them an occasional gift or paid for lunch had fewer depressive symptoms, whereas grandparents who only received help, without reciprocating had increased depressive symptoms.
The findings also showed it is important for grandchildren to help their grandparents remain independent, and maintain a two-way, supportive relationship, in order to ward off the detrimental effects of aging on the mental and emotional well-being of the older adults.
“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,” – Moorman.