Elevated Depressive Symptoms among Caregiving Grandparents

Authors

  • Jan Blustein,

  • Sewin Chan,

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    • Address correspondence to Jan Blustein, M.D., Ph.D., Wagner Graduate School, New York University, The Puck Building, Rm. 3042, 295 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012. Sewin Chan, Ph.D., and Frederico C. Guanais, M.Sc., are also with the Wagner Graduate School, New York University.

  • Frederico C Guanais


  • This project was supported by grant number R03 HS11747 from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.

Abstract

Objective. To determine whether caregiving grandparents are at an increased risk for depressive symptoms.

Data Source. National sample (n=10,293) of grandparents aged 53–63 years in 1994, and their spouse/partners, who took part in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

Study Design. Grandparents were surveyed in 1994 and resurveyed every two years thereafter, through 2000. Over that period, 977 had a grandchild move in or out of their home. These grandparents served as their own controls to assess the impact of having a grandchild in the home.

Data Extraction. Depressive symptoms were measured using an abbreviated form of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies—Depression (CES-D) scale, scored 1–8, with a score ≥4 associated with depression “caseness.”

Principal Findings. At the time of the 1994 interview, 8.2 percent of grandparents had a grandchild in their home. However, there was substantial variation across demographic groups (e.g., 29.4 percent of single nonwhite grandmothers, but only 2.0 percent of single white grandfathers had a grandchild in residence). The impact of having a grandchild in the home varied by grandparent demographic group, with single grandparents and those without coresident adult children experiencing the greatest probability of elevation in depressive symptoms when a grandchild was in residence. For example, single nonwhite grandmothers experienced an 8 percentage point increase in the probability of having a CES-D score ≥4 when a grandchild was in their home, compared to when a grandchild was not in their home, controlling for changes in health care, income, and household composition over time (95 percent CI=0.1 to 15.0 percentage points).

Conclusions. Grandparents have a greater probability of elevated depressive symptoms when a grandchild is in their home, versus when a grandchild is not in their home. Single women of color bear a disproportionate burden of the depression associated with caring for grandchildren. Since an increasing number of grandparents function as a de facto safety net keeping their grandchildren out of formal foster care, identifying strategies to support the health and well-being of caregiving grandparents is an emerging priority.

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