Grandparenting Can Be A Strategy For Better Health

Pandemic research validated that grandparents who stay connected have better quality of life

By: Amy Denney | The Epoch Times

Stacy Rizzo has a new outlook on life now that she has become a grandmother.

In early 2022, the California woman added three grandsons to her family, ages 11, 7, and 2. She also got an adult daughter, Stephanie Bernardy, in the deal.

The two women met in Surrogate Grandparents—USA, a private Facebook group that fosters online connections across generations. Ms. Bernardy, who lives in the Midwest, was in the group because her parents died when she was a teen, and she didn’t want her boys to miss out on the special love of grandparents.

Ms. Rizzo and her husband, Nick, weren’t able to have children. It was painful watching her childhood friends having babies, but travel and work kept her life full for many years. After the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Rizzo had a desire for deeper relationships. When those same friends of hers started having grandchildren, the yearning grew.

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“It hit me a second time. I felt like there was always something missing from my life,” Ms. Rizzo, 55, told The Epoch Times.

She has daily contact with Ms. Bernardy and the boys through text, Facetime, letters, and cards.

“I’m definitely in a much better mood,” Ms. Rizzo said. “It fills your love bucket, having all this extra love.”

There’s something quite special about grandparenting. It can enhance mental health by bringing a sense of joy and purpose to the later years of life when career obligations are beginning to wane. And while experts will often focus on the benefits children receive from intergenerational contact, there’s no doubt that it’s also important for adults.

Natural Antidepressant

Forcing oneself out of isolation to spend time with the younger generation can reverse or reduce depression—a common, but not normal, problem among older adults.

Research published in 2022 looked at nearly 25,000 grandparents in 13 European countries and found that grandchild care has a protective effect against depression symptoms. The study, published in the Journal of Population Sciences, reported that the benefits weren’t dependent on income levels.

The only exception appears to be custodial grandparents who were taking on the role of parent and had decreased health outcomes. Grandparents who live with their children and grandchildren also didn’t experience the same benefits, with research published in the European Journal of Ageing in 2022 suggesting mixed results. 

study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, found that nearly 35% of grandparents who stopped caring for their grandchildren throughout the first nine months of the pandemic reported high levels of symptoms related to depression, such as feeling sad or having restless sleep, compared with 26% of those who continued to look after grandchildren. Those who lost contact also reported lower life satisfaction and a lower quality of life.

The study involved 2,468 grandparents older than 50 with grandchildren younger than 15.

“Looking after grandchildren may provide grandparents with emotional gratification and a sense of usefulness and competence, thereby enhancing life satisfaction,” lead author Giorgio Di Gessa, whose doctoral research focused on active aging, said in a University College London statement. “Involvement in such a family activity may also provide them with a sense of value and attachment, thereby strengthening intergenerational relationships and positive emotional exchanges that might benefit their mental health.”

Value & Purpose

Kathleen Lyons, a licensed clinical professional counsellor, told The Epoch Times that people are hardwired to seek purpose and meaning in their lives. As one moves through different phases of life, it’s also normal to redefine oneself, according to Ms. Lyons, who specializes in trauma and life adjustment.

“There’s a biological need for people to have a legacy, to create a legacy,” Ms. Lyons said. “Aging is tremendously difficult. Children keep us young. Grandparenting gives purpose and meaning.”

For one of her clients, grandparenting is her top motivation to keep fighting suicidal ideations and heal.

“She doesn’t want to pass her pain on to this little girl,” Ms. Lyons said. “So much of her fight for mental health is because she doesn’t want to pass along generational trauma.”

Spending time with grandchildren can boost essential neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help the body function by sending messages to target cells in other neurons, muscle cells, or glands.

Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and can affect sleep, memory, digestion, and the body’s stress response. Dopamine helps the brain feel pleasure in the reward centre. It can go haywire in addictions, and a low level is associated with Parkinson’s disease. Oxytocin is a hormone that’s sometimes also classified as a neurotransmitter. Bonding triggers its release, and it’s associated with touch, exercise, and a feeling of well-being.

“The only thing grandparents do is give and give and give, but in the giving, they are receiving,” Ms. Lyons said. “Grandparenting is the most selfish selfless thing we can do.”

A Risk Worth Taking

Ms. Rizzo was able to visit her new family nearly a year ago, and when she did, she “proposed” to Ms. Bernardy, asking her to become her daughter. Her new grandsons call her Nana, and everyone’s lives have been enriched because they took a chance.

It didn’t come without challenges, however. Ms. Rizzo said she first met dozens of women online, most of whom she didn’t click with. She also saw that some seemed manipulative and wanted the relationship strictly for financial gain.

With Ms. Bernardy, the relationship came naturally. They were able to easily be vulnerable with one another and determine whether their thoughts, beliefs, and expectations were compatible. It was worth it, Mrs. Rizzo said. Now, her grandsons spontaneously call her, she helps Ms. Bernardy work through tough parental issues, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences she has had.

“You have to stick with it. It does take time,” Ms. Rizzo said. “It’s up to you to make the effort and keep connecting. You will find out being a grandma makes you feel younger.”

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Scientists Discover “Anxiety Gene” In The Brain — And A Natural Way To Turn It Off

The discovery of an “anxiety gene” — and a natural way to turn it off — in the brains of mice could lead to new treatments for anxiety disorders, which are the most common type of mental illness in the world.

The Challenge: While anyone can experience worry or dread, people with anxiety disorders experience those feelings pervasively and often for no identifiable reason.

Medications can relieve the symptoms of anxiety, but because we don’t really know what is going on in the brains of people with anxiety, finding the right drug or combination of drugs can be a time-consuming process of trial and error.

Continue reading …

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READ MORE: Researchers Have Developed A Way To “Decode” Depression

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The Epoch Times

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