STUDY FINDS HELPING OTHERS HELPS YOU by Richard Chace
12/30/2016 at 11:38
Caring for your grandchildren or a loved one has been linked with a longer life for the caregiver, according to a study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. Research found that older adults who helped care for their grandchildren, although not as the primary caregiver, lived an average of five years longer than those who did not.
The study, "Helping pays off: People who care for others live longer", conducted by an international group of researchers for Universität Basel, also discovered there is a similar result among seniors who provided care for children outside their own family or provided assistance to people in other ways. The research revealed that group of older adults lived an average of three years longer.
Ralph Hertwig, director of the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and an author of the study, noted to CBS News that while the benefits to grandchildren when they are cared for by their grandparents is well established, there is a lack of research on the effects for the grandparents. According to a 2009 U.S. Census Bureau report, 2.5 million grandparents were responsible for most of the basic needs of one or more grandchildren who lived in their household. In a similar 2009 study of more than 35,000 Europeans found that 58 percent of grandmothers and 49 percent of grandfathers reported that they provided some level of care for their grandchild over the course of a year.
As the bulk of the global senior citizen population continues to grow, Hertwig wanted to find out if “there are tangible benefits to the donors, or the grandparents. In other words, is caring a one-way street or not.” The research study focused on more than 500 people from Germany and Switzerland aged between 70 and 103, analyzing data on their lifespans and utilizing Berlin Aging Study data collected between 1990 and 2009. The researchers did not included primary and custodial caregivers, meaning the level of care provided was limited. They also controlled for a number of factors that could affect the results, such as physical health, age, socioeconomic status and the number of children/grandchildren.
One possible explanation for the results? Study author Sonja Hilbrand, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Basel, reportedly explained in a statement, “It seems plausible that the development of parents’ and grandparents’ prosocial behavior toward their kin left its imprint on the human body in terms of a neural and hormonal system that subsequently laid the foundation for the evolution of cooperation and altruistic behavior towards non-kin.”
Two important notes from the study authors: correlation does not imply causation – meaning that although the results find a positive impact between caring and a longer life, that does not prove caregiving will always result in a longer life. In fact, other studies have shown that intense levels of caregiving may cause stress and have negative physical and mental health effects on the caregiver. The other note is that the benefits of caregiving probably are limited.
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