May 25, 2015

First Published;, 14-April 2015

Researchers at Trinity College found grandparents providing over 60 hours' care per month experience significantly more depressive symptoms.

The finding is included in a paper due to be presented later this year as part of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) project.

The study, involving 7,500 older people, has found a huge reliance on grandparents as parents seek to avoid crippling childcare costs.

It found around 60pc of grandparents had looked after their grandchildren at some point in the previous month.

And of grandparents providing childcare, almost one in five looked after their grandchildren for more than 60 hours a month.

Negative health effects were also noted, according to epidemiology research fellow Christine McGarrigle.

"Grandparents who provide higher levels of childcare experience significantly more depressive symptoms," she told the Irish Independent.

However, the research also found that depressive symptoms were moderated in cases where grandparents also participated in social or leisure activities. The study also found that grandparents with higher levels of education are less likely to suffer from depressive symptoms.

"This increase in depressive symptoms was seen in the lower educational attainment group," said Ms McGarrigle.

Grandparents with third-level education were also less likely to be minding grandchildren more than 60 hours per month, the study found.

Ms McGarrigle said the findings contradict the perception that all grandparents are alike, with similar abilities and interest in providing care for their grandchildren.

She said that how happy a grandparent is about providing childcare really depended on what their expectation was to begin with.

The findings are due to be presented at a major international conference this June at Syracuse University in New York.

An Irish Independent survey earlier this year found parents need to earn up to €30,000 a year just to fund the cost of childcare for two children.

A recent Growing Up In Ireland report also found that the most common form of non-parental childcare was provided by relatives, with grandparents in particular playing a huge role, looking after one-third of infants in childcare.

Age Action, a charity promoting better policies and services for older people, said it was important for parents and grandparents to "have an honest discussion" about childcare.

"Many older people get great fulfilment from looking after their grandchildren, building relationships with them and supporting their adult children. But they need to be able to say no," said the charity's head of advocacy, Justin Moran.

"It also needs to be recognised that as a grandparent gets older or their health deteriorates, they are not as able to look after young children. They may need to reduce the amount of childcare they provide or to stop altogether."

Tilda, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, is a project funded by the Department of Health, Irish Life and Atlantic Philanthropies.

The study is charting the health, social and economic circumstances of older people.

There have already been two waves of research, with a third planned for 2016. It is providing information for policy makers and service planners, as well as companies in the insurance and services industries.