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Good grandparent, grandchild bond may lower depression risk for both

Kids with unexplained abdominal pain risk depression as adults 01:08

Hanging out with your grandparents might not only boosts their moods -- new research suggests it may also bring psychological benefits to you as well.

A new study shows that a good relationship between grandparents and their adult grandchildren was linked to fewer depression symptoms for both elderly and young adults. The closer the bond, the more anti-depressive benefits were observed.

"The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health," Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor in the department of sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College, said in a press release.

Moorman and her team presented the data at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York. The research is considered preliminary since it hasn't been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Other studies have shown that older men and women who do not have close contact with their family and friends had a 26 percent higher death risk over a seven-year period compared to those who were more social. The increased risk was still observed even if the person did not consider themselves to be lonely.

The new study involved 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, and tracked them from 1985 through 2004. The average grandparent was born in 1917 and the average grandchild was born in 1964, making them 77 and 31-years-old at the midway point of the study, respectively.

The researchers also discovered that grandparents who received "tangible support" but were unable to reciprocate with a grandchild had the most increases in depressive symptoms over time. Tangible support could be something as little as a car trip to the store or giving some money to help with living expenses.

In contrast, grandparents who were able to both give and receive tangible support to a grandchild had the fewest symptoms of depression overall.

That finding suggests just helping your grandparents get around may not be enough to provide the boost in wellbeing seen in those who have close relationships with their adult children.

"Most of us have been raised to believe that the way to show respect to older family members is to be solicitous and to take care of their every need," Moorman said. "But all people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent. In other words, let granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he's on Social Security and you've held a real job for years now."

Receiving or giving tangible support ,specifically, did not seem to have an effect on depression rates in the grandchildren.

Moorman said that people should focus on fostering healthy relationships not only within the immediate family but with their extended family members. In addition, grandchildren shouldn't turn down a gift from their grandparents because it may make older people feel better.

"There's a saying, 'It's better to give than to receive.' Our results support that folk wisdom if a grandparent gets help, but can't give it, he or she feels badly. Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown, and it's frustrating and depressing for them to instead be dependent on their grandchildren," Moorman explained.

Another way that seniors may be able to combat the blues is to play video games. Seniors who grabbed a controller more than once a week were linked to higher levels of well-being, positive moods, social function and self-reported health than those who didn't game at all, according to a March study in Computers in Human Behavior. Non-gamers were also shown to have higher levels of depression and negative dispositions.

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