Grandma, What a Big Job You Have!

Grandmothers more likely to feel depressed if they primarily take care of grandchildren

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Almost four million grandmothers live in homes with their grandchildren. About a third of these women are also the main "parents" for their grandchildren, which can take a toll.

A recent study found that grandmothers who were the primary caregivers for their grandchildren were more likely to have depression symptoms than other grandmothers.

Primary caregiver grandmothers were also more likely to report strain within their families than grandmothers who were not the primary caregivers of their grandchildren.

The authors suggested that grandmothers should be asked about how they are doing when they or their grandchildren receive health care services.

"Seek help for depression."

This study, led by Carol M. Musil, PhD, RN, of Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, looked at the rate of depression among grandmothers caring for their grandchildren and what may reduce their risk of depression.

The researchers studied 240 grandmothers who fulfilled different roles in their families regarding their grandchildren.

A total of 107 grandmothers were the primary caregivers for their grandchildren, and 24 lived in multi-generational homes with their grandchildren.

Another 109 grandmothers in the study were not the primary caregivers to their grandchildren (and did not frequently babysit them).

The grandmothers were surveyed three times over a five-year period to provide long-term information. The researchers only included grandmothers whose caregiving status did not change over the study period.

The average age of the grandmothers was 57, and about 46 percent were employed outside the home. Although 80 percent of the participants were white, the researchers wrote that a higher proportion of the grandmothers who were primary caregivers were minorities.

The researchers looked for symptoms of depression among these grandmothers as well as strains within the family.

These strains might include "...conflict among children, problems that do not get resolved or disagreements about a family member’s friends or activities," the authors wrote.

The researchers also looked at how resourceful the grandmothers were in terms of their mental skills in dealing with hard times. Such strategies might include problem solving skills, positive self-talk and the ability to see a stressful situation in a different light that helps them manage it better.

The researchers found that the grandmothers who were primary caregivers were more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those who were not primary caregivers.

There were also higher levels of strain within the families of grandmothers who were primary caregivers for their grandchildren.

The higher the symptoms of depression were for the grandmothers, the more likely they were to perceive an increased strain in the family, the authors found.

The researchers did not find any higher or lower levels of resourcefulness in coping with hardship based on whether a grandmother took care of her grandchildren or not.

However, those grandmothers with better coping skills also tended to be less likely to experience symptoms of depression.

The researchers wrote that the symptoms of depression among grandmothers might make them "...more likely to have a negative outlook regarding life events and thus be disposed to cite problems with intra-family strain, as their own mental health could affect their ability to interact and intervene proactively with their own families."

"These clinical implications highlight the need for brief assessments of grandmother caregivers when they or their grandchildren seek health care," the researchers wrote.

"Research has found that grandmothers who are the primary caregivers of their grandkids for multiple years experience more depressive symptoms than those who are not," Jamie Kuhlman, PhD, a provisionally licensed psychologist in private practice in Austin, Texas, told dailyRx News.

"Additionally, these grandmothers also feel a great deal of strain within the family, which may include more arguments with parents surrounding the parenting of the grandchildren," she said. "Grandmothers experiencing depression are at an even higher risk of feeling strain within the family. The depression can negatively color their outlook on life making them more apt to perceive family stress."

She also pointed out that the research showed fewer depressive symptoms among grandmothers with better coping mechanisms.

"When deciding on childcare, parents should honestly and continually discuss any depressive symptoms the grandmother may be experiencing and the potential stress the role of primary caregiver may bring," Dr. Kuhlman said.

This study was published in the July/August issue of the journal Nursing Outlook. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
August 27, 2013
Last Updated:
September 1, 2013