Study finds grandmothers who raise their grandkids struggle with depression

gradnmother next to a babyGrandmothers who care for their grandkids full time struggle with depression and family strains, report researchers from Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.

Carol Musil, professor of nursing, recently conducted one of the longest-running studies comparing grandmothers serving as their grandkids’ full-time caregiver to those not caring for their grandchildren.

“Although we expected the primary caregiver grandmothers raising grandchildren would have more strain and depressive symptoms,” Musil said, “we were surprised at how persistent these were over the years examined in the study.”

Results of the study, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, were reported in Nursing Outlook, the journal of the American Academy of Nursing and the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science.

Some 6.2 million United States households (5.3 percent of all U.S. households), have a grandparent living in the house, according to U.S. Census data. According to Musil, more than one 1 million grandmothers are responsible for raising grandchildren whose parents do not live in the home.

Musil tracked 240 grandmothers for six-and-a-half years to see how the responsibilities of caring for their grandchildren, 16 years and younger, affected their health over time.

The subjects were surveyed about their physical and mental health annually for the first three years, and two more times—between two and two-and-a-half years apart—at the end of study.

The grandmothers, who averaged 57.5 years of age at the study’s onset, were placed in three caregiving categories: those who are full-time caregivers for their grandchildren, those living in multigenerational homes or non-caregivers. Participants were randomly selected throughout Ohio, representing rural, suburban and urban backgrounds.

Despite signs of depression and family stress, researchers also found the grandmothers, especially those raising grandchildren, were generally open to receiving various forms of help. That implies, Musil said, that grandmothers might be open to resourcefulness training, which has helped reduce depressive symptoms in grandmothers in pilot studies conducted by Jaclene Zauszniewski, the Kate Hanna Harvey Professor of Community Health at the nursing school.

“They need support from others,” Musil said, “but the most important thing is to maintain and perhaps develop new cognitive and behavioral skills and approaches for handling some very challenging family issues.”

Other Case Western Reserve nursing school contributors were: Christopher J. Burant, assistant professor of nursing; Alexandra B. Jeanblanc, eldercare research specialist; Camille Warner, assistant professor of nursing; and Zauszniewski.