Elevated Depressive Symptoms Among Caregiving Grandparents

Jan Blustein, Sewin Chan & Frederico Aguiar
Health Services Research, Vol. 28, No. 6p1, pp. 1671-1690.

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.

Wagner Faculty