Caring for grandchildren daily can cause high blood pressure and stress.

In the U.S. alone, more than more than 5.8 million children are living with their grandparents. This growing phenomenon in economically challenging times lead researchers to study the health of grandparents who have to raise their grandchildren. They found that when grandparents don’t have relaxed, optional visits with grandchildren, but need to care for them constantly ― for example so that their parents can work to support them, then stress comes into play. This stress can aggravate common aging health conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

In fact, a Harvard study showed that caregiving grandmothers are at higher risk for heart attacks than those who are afforded the joy of optional visits. While the exact cause wasn’t established, researchers hypothesized that stress was the main reason. Also, grandmothers may have less time to engage in caring for themselves such as having regular checkups, preventative care, getting enough sleep or getting enough exercise. Feelings of lost independence, contact with friends and the ability to enjoy retirement ― and then the guilt of having these feelings, are other factors that cause stress.

While previous studies have also shown a higher incidence of depression in grandparents caring for grandchildren and a tendency to rate their own health status lower, the new study is the first to demonstrate risk of heart disease.

A study by ChapinHall research center at Chicago University titled ‘Caring for their Children’s Children,’ found that 80 percent of the caregiving grandmothers interviewed reported one or more health problems. The health problems reported most frequently were arthritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Furthermore, one-third of grandmothers reported symptoms of depression.

While caring for grandchildren has its joys, older people who bear most of the responsibility of raising their grandchildren may be under stress and ashamed to say so, in denial, or underestimating it. Studies have also shown even though grandparents babysit out of love, many would take an alternative if it would keep their grandchildren safe.

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