Grandparents Raising Grandkids More Likely To Have Health Problems

September 1, 1999

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Caring for their grandchildren may be taking a toll on the health of many grandparents, according to a new study in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

In the study, which looked at 173 caregiving grandparents and 3,304 non-caregiving grandparents, California researchers found that caregivers were 50% more likely to have a limitation on any activity of daily living (ADL) than were non-caregiving grandparents. ADLs include ability to move about the house, perform daily chores, walk 6 blocks, or work outside the home.

In light of the growing numbers of grandparents who care for their grandchildren, the new report "suggests the importance of far greater research attention to the health and well-being of grandparents raising grandchildren and the potential health consequences of such caregiving," write study authors Dr. Meredith Minkler of the School of Public Health at the University of California in Berkeley and Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson of the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

"Public health policies that promote health, enhance physical accommodation to the environment and provide outreach and access to health clinics and services geared to families, rather than individuals, also are needed," the researchers recommend.

Possibly as a result of drug abuse, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and violence, the number of children living with grandparents or other relatives increased by almost 44% increase between 1980 and 1990. By 1997, about 4 million US children were living primarily with grandparents, according to information cited in the study. In the study, caregiving was defined as having the primary responsibility for raising a grandchild for six months or more.

In the study, 17% of caregiving grandparents were limited in their ability to move around the house. In addition, 3 out of 10 caregiving grandparents had difficulty completing daily households tasks, and 4 out of 10 had difficulty climbing stairs and walking six blocks. More than 50% of caregiving grandparents had difficulty doing heavy tasks and working for pay, the study authors report.

Along with earlier reports that have shown that caregiving grandparents were about twice as likely to report symptoms of depression than non-caregiving grandparents, the new findings could reflect "the stressful lives and lack of resources experienced by many caregiving grandparents," study authors note.

However, they also write that another interpretation of the findings is that grandparents caring for young grandchildren may be more aware of their physical limitations than those not trying to keep up with the "often substantial physical demands of caring for youngsters."

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 1999;89:1384-1389.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.