Caring for a grandchild helps elderly avoid loneliness, scientists say

Grandparents who take care of their grandchildren ‘are less lonely because looking after little ones expands their social circle’

  • More than 3,800 grandparents were quizzed on their feelings of loneliness
  • Those with an active role in childcare scored better and had more friends
  • The margins were very slim, but researchers said it was a positive indication  

Grandparents who help take care of their grandchildren are less lonely because it expands their social circle, scientists claim. 

Almost 4,000 grandparents were asked a slew of questions, including ‘how many people are you close to?’. 

Those who cared for their grandchildren more frequently were slightly less lonely and had more friends to talk to. 

Writing in their paper, researchers said looking after grandchildren may boost self-esteem and help people feel young again.

Grandparents who take care of their grandchildren  are less lonely, a study shows

Experts at Universitatsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany, used data from a survey of 3,849 grandparents.

All of the participants took part in the survey back in 2014. They had an average age of 66.

Among the grandparents, less than a third of them (1,125) said they actively cared for a grandchild. 

Just more than half of the 1,125 were women and 80 per cent were married and living with their spouse. 

Participants were asked to rate how much they agreed with statements on a scale of one to four, with four being strongly disagree.


The study found caring for grandchildren can lower the risk of loneliness, supporting other studies that have found it can also protect against depression.

The theory of ‘role enhancement’ has been used to explain the health and psychological implications of grandparental caregiving.  

Role enhancement theory suggests that occupying many roles is beneficial as it contributes to positive self-esteem.

Assisting families to balance work and family by providing care for grandchildren may help grandparents feel confident in their role in the family as well as encouraging positive relationships.

It can also expand the social circle of grandparents as they mingle with others in their situation. 

However, if grandparents become obligated to provide more intensive grandchild care, they may feel overburdened by the responsibility and less able to engage in other aspects of their lives, therefore making it a negative chore. 

Statements included, ‘I miss having people around among which I feel comfortable’, ‘I often feel rejected’, and ‘I feel like I am left out’. 

Higher overall scores indicated a higher degree of perceived loneliness and social isolation.  

Among the grandparents who cared for their grandchildren the average loneliness score was 1.7, and the average social isolation score was 1.6.

Grandparents who didn’t have an active caring role had a higher average loneliness score of 1.8. Their social isolation score was also 1.6. 

Grandparents with care duties reported having contact with one more person on average, totalling six.

The margins between the results are slim. But the experts said there are indications that caring for a grandchild have positive impacts.

Lead author Professor Eleanor Quirke said: ‘Assisting their families to balance work and family by providing supplementary grandchild care may boost grandparents’ self-esteem, and may also facilitate ongoing positive relationships with their children and grandchildren.

‘Moreover, caring for grandchildren may also expand the social circle of grandparents and allow for further opportunities to establish relationships with other parents or grandparents.’

This is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish cause. It is published in the British Medical Journal Open. 

And it may be that grandparents who felt less lonely to start with might have been more likely to care for their grandchildren.