Alzheimer’s Study: Watching Grandchildren Boosts Brain Health

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Could watching the grandkids be good for your mental health? For the first time, Australian researchers have found what they believe is a link to improved brain health.

“I think about Alzheimer’s all the time,” said Debbie McEntire of Dallas, “because I lose my keys all the time!” she added with a laugh. But, McEntire, “G-Mommy” to the grandkids, is doing everything she can to stay fit. That includes quality time with three-year-old grandson Christopher and baby sister Jaqueline.

“You have to stay active,” said McEntire. “You need to have socialization, people need friends. Even if it’s just one friend to do things with– it’s what keeps you at any age healthy and happy.”

And experts agree. The Australian study looked at post-menopausal women who spent one day a week caring for their grandchildren. Those women had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. Researchers admit that the link isn’t clear, but local experts say human interaction triggers a different reaction in our brains.

“When we interact with another human being, our brain cells fire rapidly,” said Diana Kerwin, M.D. with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “There’s a lot of stimulation of the brain – much more so than if you sit and do a crossword puzzle or if you sit and watch TV.”

Dr. Kerwin is a nationally-recognized expert in Alzheimer’s and memory disorders. She says even if there aren’t grandkids nearby, the message remains the same.

“Seek out those activities, it doesn’t have to be that you’re babysitting your grandchildren, but take the underlying message of: these people were staying active both socially and also physically, so look for ways to incorporate that into your life,” said Dr. Kerwin.

“They can babysit anytime,” added Debbie’s daughter Kate Jeter, “[it’s] good for me, too.”

As for “G-Mommy”, she calls time with the grandkids “So great! Almost as great as chocolate. Maybe better.”

As with chocolate, the key is moderation. That same study found that watching the grandchildren every day had the opposite effect on brain health – most likely, doctors say, because the benefit of the social interaction was outweighed by the stress and fatigued involved with every day childcare.

On Saturday afternoon, Texas Health Presbyterian will offer what they’re calling a “Grandparenting 101” class to provide a refresher on infant care and safety for anyone interested in preparing for a new arrival. Visit www.TexasHealth.org to register or call 1-877-THR-WELL.

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