Older women who care for their grandchildren have better cognitive functions than those who do not, according to a study.
Prof. Jun Hey-jung at Yonsei University analyzed the responses of 2,341 women between 45 and 74 in a survey by the Korea Labor Institute.
She found that the 170 women who cared for their grandchildren for more than 10 hours a week over the past year demonstrated slightly better cognitive functions with 24.4 points on average than the 2,171 who did not and scored 23.7 points on average.
Their cognitive functions were measured using the internationally recognized mini-mental state examination or MMSE, which is used to screen for cognitive impairment. The top score is 30 points.
The effects of caring for grandchildren were particularly noticeable among women with better education. A closer look at the 726 women in the study who had completed at least middle school showed a larger gap between the cognitive functions of 660 who did not take care of their grandchildren (24.2 points) and the 66 women who did (25.2 points).
The benefits appeared to continue for two years after the women had stopped caring for their grandchildren.
But the findings are still tentative, excluding variables such as age, marital status, health and economic status.
Jun said, "It appears that emotional rapport gained by childcare activities such as playing and storytelling stimulated brain activity. Korean society often focuses on the negative factors of grandparents caring for their grandchildren, such as restricted freedom and physical burdens, but there are clearly positive effects as well."
Jun added, "If a grandmother voluntarily offers to care for her grandchildren rather than being forced to do so by her children, the positive effects could be amplified."
The results of the study were published in the latest edition of the journal Research on Aging.