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Are Grandparents Shortening their Lives by Babysitting?

Updated on June 14, 2014
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Babysitting May Take a Toll on an Aging Body

Years ago, I read a flyer that emphasized that grandparents who babysat for their grandchildren shortened their lives by at least 5 years. Each time I saw an elderly person babysitting a young child I was reminded of the flyer.

Babysitting may require constant exertion and running around depending on the age and physical activity of the child. Dashing frequently to pull a child from danger after attaining advanced age causes physical and emotional stress.

Crying Child

Can Grandma handle this child
Can Grandma handle this child | Source

Stubborn Child

A stubborn child may cause great stress to grandpa
A stubborn child may cause great stress to grandpa | Source

Stress

Stress activates the body’s fight or flight response. The fight or fight response is the body’s natural defensive mechanism to stress. When the body is stressed, it produces two hormones i.e., cortical and adrenalin. These two hormones can trigger changes in your body and prepare it to survive a dangerous situation. [1]

When stressors are always present, the body remains in its constant defense mode causing persistently high levels of adrenalin and cortisone. Overexposure to these hormones can disrupt normal body functioning and place you at risk for numerous health problems [2] such as heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive problems, sleep deprivation, memory and concentration problems [3] stroke, as well as and severe wear and tear on a fragile aging body.

According to science direct, “chronic psychological stress appears to accelerate biological aging” [4] A study of post menopausal women exposed to the stressors of caring for their husbands with dementia, revealed “higher levels of oxidative damages caused by frequent and sustained activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis.” [5] Oxidative damage is said to be related to the aging process. Simply put, the women caring for husbands with dementia on a daily basis aged faster than the ones with healthy husbands.

Arguably, there is not much difference between post menopausal women caring for husbands with dementia and caring for stubborn, hyperactive children who lack the ability to appreciate danger. Thus, if the natural aging process is a predictor of death,[6] then stressors that enhance aging such as baby sitting at an advanced age may in fact shorten one’s life.

Grandma Babysitting

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Crying Child

Constant crying can cause grandma to be stressed.
Constant crying can cause grandma to be stressed. | Source

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Telomeres and Stress

Research study on a group of women showed that the longer a care giver provided care to others, the shorter their telomeres became due to stress. Telomeres are structures located at the ends of our chromosomes for protection.[7] The stress that resulted in the shortened tolemers from care giving can be actual and perceived.[8]

Chromosomes are made up of DNA. DNA consists of our individual genetic information. Any structural changes in chromosomes are usually reflective of disease process.

Telomeres are said to naturally shorten with age [9] which means that older people have shorter telomeres. Thus, the more advanced our age the less buffer protection we have from perceived or actual stress. In the above mentioned research study, the higher the stress level the shorter the tolemeres.

It is logical to conclude the grandparents who are stressed from babysitting have shorter telomeres.


Fussy Child

A fussy Child might be too much for grandma
A fussy Child might be too much for grandma | Source

Stress Related Illnesses

Many studies have shown that stress is a contributing factor to many illnesses. Some these diseases are high blood pressure, emotional disorders, stroke cancer, heart diseases and endocrine diseases. [10]

Hyperactive Children

Hyperactive children can be difficult for grandparents to baby sit and may result in high stress levels.
Hyperactive children can be difficult for grandparents to baby sit and may result in high stress levels. | Source

Can Grandma's Heart Handle This?

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Heart Disease and Stress

Heart disease refers to any disease that affects the heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Older people are more at risk for heart disease. A heart attack may result from heart disease. A heart attack may be caused by sudden emotional or physical stress.[11] A person having a heart attack may think that he or she is having indigestion and may feel pain or pressure in the chest. The pain from a heart attack may radiate to one side of the body. The pain may move to the arm, back, neck or other areas.[12]

Young adventuresome children may engage in behaviors that may cause sudden excitement in others. For example, they may try to climb over a fence or dash into the path of a moving car. It is a well accepted fact that increased stress and excitement can cause a heart attack or sudden death. A sudden increased episode of stress can cause an already diseased heart to speed up, slow down or stop.[13]

An older woman was babysitting a 3 year old child for her daughter who had a full time day job. One day while she was baby sitting the child, the child jumped from a couch to a glass table causing severe body injuries to her neck and face. When the paramedics arrived, the woman's heart was pounding so hard that her family feared that she was having a heart attack. The woman was so traumatized by the incident that it was all she could talk about for days.

Tantrum

A fragile grandma may not be able to handle this child
A fragile grandma may not be able to handle this child | Source

Active Toddlers

Toddlers that are active may cause increased stress for the baby sitter.
Toddlers that are active may cause increased stress for the baby sitter. | Source
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Stroke

According to one medical doctor, people can lower their stroke risk by attempting to reduce the stress in their lives. In patients with a preexisting heart disease, sudden shock triggers the fight or fight response and can loosen arterial plaques causing clots to break off and go to vital organs like the brain resulting in a stroke [14].

According to one research study, sudden change in body position, unusual physical effort, unusual physical emotion such as excitement were among triggering factors for an ischemic stroke.[15]. While further studies are said to be to be needed in this area, an association has been found between self perceived psychological stress and ischemic strokes. An ischemic stroke occurs when an Artery that supplies blood to the brain is blocked.

The sudden movements described above along with unusual physical efforts would seem to characterize the day in the life of a baby sitter caring for a young child, especially one in his “terrible twos. Moreover, if the child has any kind of behavioral disorders such as ADHD, then the likelihood of sudden movements and increased physical efforts are increased. ADHD is a behavioral condition characterized by impulsivity and hyperactivity.

A few years ago, I was visited by an acquaintance and her two children. Her 5 year old son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My visitor spent the entire two hours calling the child’s name and trying to convince him to “stop!” After observing the situation for the first few minutes, I brought him a large container of toys from my son’s room. The little boy went through the container of toys within less than five minutes then lost interest. Before the visit ended he had fallen three times, banged his forehead in a door, and had taken a large object to smash his older sister on the head causing a large knot.The young mother had a permanent exasperated look about her.

An 80 year old grandparent having to babysit a child like that for 8 hours would seem to be at higher risk for psychological stress than a younger person.

Screaming Baby

Baby needs mom not grandma
Baby needs mom not grandma | Source

Toddler

Toddlers may not appreciate danger
Toddlers may not appreciate danger | Source

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is defined as abnormally high pressure in the arteries. Researchers are not clear as to whether stress leads to chronic hypertension. However, most agree that stress can cause frequent blood pressure spikes. Some experts believe that these frequent spikes can add up over time leading to long term hypertension. [16] Stress is a factor leading to high blood pressure. High blood pressure occurs more often in older people. Grandmothers who raise children suffer more stress and depression than grandmothers who don’t.[17] This also means that grandmothers who are raising grandchildren may have more blood pressure spikes that those who don’t.

Constant anxiety and stress can cause insomnia in older adults. Insomnia is commonly defined as the inability to fall asleep, or inability to stay asleep to ensure adequate amount of rest. People who are unable to sleep may be fatigued and lack the ability to focus. People who are constantly fatigued and tired from lack of sleep cannot adequately perform. Constant inability to focus from mental tiredness or inability to feel renewed from sleeplessness can be seen as a stressful life event. Chronic stressful life events can lead to depression. [18]

Many new parents may rely on their own parents to assist with baby sitting or caring for a newborn. Grandparents who have to babysit crying children at nights may have problems with insomnia. Imagine a 80 year old man having to run upstairs each time he hears a baby crying and not being able to go back to sleep until the child calms down.

Crying Baby

Make sure grandpa can cope with this before leaving this child in his care.
Make sure grandpa can cope with this before leaving this child in his care. | Source

Baby with Grandma

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Conclusion

The stress from babysitting may have an adverse impact upon overall health. An aging body undergoes a lot of changes. During the aging process bones become less dense, joints become weaker, ligaments are thinner and muscles decrease. [19]. As such elderly people move slower, bones break more easily and they are not as strong as before. The decrease in functions of our body due to the aging process, [20] suggests that older adults are less able to handle the strenuous physical activity and emotional stress required to chase young children around and may in fact be shortening their lives by babysitting.

Terrible Twos

Grandma Needs Rest

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REFERENCES

  1. Chronic Stress puts your health at Risk: Chronic Stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body. Take steps to control your stress. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/stress/art-20046037
  2. Id
  3. Id
  4. Aschbacher Kristin, O’Donovan Aoife, et al. Good Stress, Bad Stress and Oxidative Stress. Insights From Anticipatory Cortisol Activity.Psychoneuroendocrinology: Available at: //www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030645301300042
  5. Id.
  6. Epel E., Daubenmier J., Moskowitz J. T., Folkman S., Blackburn E. (2009). Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1172, 34–5310.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04414.x [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]]What is a Chromosome. National Human Genome Research Institute. Available at: http://www.genome.gov/26524120
  7. Epel S Elissa, Elizabeth Blackburn et al. Accelerated Tolemere Shortening in Response to Life’s Stress: http://www.pnas.org/content/101/49/17312.full
  8. What is a Chromosome. National Human Genome Research Institute. Available at: http://www.genome.gov/26524120
  9. Goldberg, Natalie. The Mind Body Connection. Available at: http://faculty.weber.edu/molpin/healthclasses/1110/bookchapters/stresseffectschapter.htm
  10. Heart Attack. Medline Plus. Available at:http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000195.h
  11. Id
  12. Can Too Much Excitement Kill a person. HT Health: Available at:http://health.heraldtribune.com/2012/07/24/can-too-much-excitement-kill-a-pers
  13. Id.
  14. Jeffrey, Susan. Sudden Movement Negative Emotion can trigger Ischemic Stroke. Medscape Multispecialty. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/786269
  15. Diseases and Conditions. Stress and High Blood Pressure what is the connection. The Mayo Clinic. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/stress-and-high-blood-pressure/art-20044190
  16. Healthy Aging. Raising Kids Again. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/aging/caregiving/raising-children-again.html
  17. Mayo Clinic. Chronic Stress can it cause depression: Available at:http://www.mayoclinic.org/stress/expert-answers/faq-20058233

19. Changes in body with aging. The Merk Manual: Home Health Handbook for Patients and Caregivers. Available at:http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/older_peoples_health_issues/the_aging_body/changes_in_the_body_with_aging.html

20. Id.

Updated June 13, 2014

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    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      The right activities must be done so that the grandparents will not get too stressed.

    • cecileportilla profile image
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      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      That may work in cases where the child is more mature and agreed upon activities can be scheduled. If the child is immature or has any type of attention deficit disorders then it can be difficult to stick to particular activities.

    • cecileportilla profile image
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      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      This is an excellent response. However, I see grandparents who are pretending to enjoy the experience where their adult children are stressed and working two jobs.

    • LWhip profile image

      LWhip 3 years ago

      A good reminder to be considerate of everyone's needs.

    • cecileportilla profile image
      Author

      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      LWhip

      You are absolutely right! Thanks for stopping by my hub.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Grandparents enjoy their special time with their grand children but too much time can leave them feeling stressed out. You made good points.

    • cecileportilla profile image
      Author

      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Your are correct about the stress factor. Thanks for stopping by my Hub!

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