While there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s and no way to alter or reverse its course, there are some healthy steps people can take at any age to help lower the risk of developing the disease, or perhaps stave it off a little longer.
Now a study out of Australia is suggesting that one of the best ways to prevent Alzheimer’s is something you may already be doing: watching your grandchildren!
Researchers assessed the cognitive abilities of 186 Australian women from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project using the Symbol-Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT), and Tower of London. Those who babysat their grandchildren one day per week scored the highest out of all participants on the SDMT and CVLT.
Dr. Diana Kerwin, chief of geriatrics at Texas Health Dallas and founder of Texas Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders, says the human interaction is a big part of what makes grandparenting such an important exercise for older people. The physical activity often involved in caring for a child, such as pushing them on a swing or rocking them to sleep, is also beneficial.
“If you think about when you do take care of a child, you tend to become more of a teacher. You’re teaching them new experiences, maybe taking them to the zoo or working on vocabulary with them … it’s stimulating for the babysitter’s brain as well,” says Kerwin.
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Mary and Patrick Humm are new grandparents to 2-month-old Alex, and they’ve found that having a baby around has changed their lives in some significant ways.
“I found that I had to reach back into the recesses of my memories of what it was like to calm and soothe a baby,” says Mary.
There is a limit to the amount of babysitting that could be helpful for a grandparent’s mind, however. Study participants who spent five or more days per week babysitting their grandkids showed “lower working memory performance and processing speed.” So relax and let your children do some of their own parenting. That’s one of the benefits of being a grandparent, after all!
Check out the video below to learn more about the benefits of babysitting and the new “Grandparents 101” class that’s taking off in Texas.