Grandparents and older grandchildren who have good relationships with each other are less likely to suffer from depression, according to a study presented at the American Sociological Associations 108th annual meeting.

Researchers from Boston College analyzed data from a long-term study called the Longitudinal Study of Generations. The study is a survey of US families consisting of three or four generations, compiled in seven sets of data between 1985 and 2004.

The researchers analyzed 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren. The average grandparent was born in 1917, making them 77 years old at the midpoint of the study in 1994, while the average grandchild was born in 1963, making them 31 years old.

Sara Moorman, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Aging at Boston College, said of the results:

We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.

The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health.”

Additionally, the study revealed that when grandparents gave “tangible support” to their grandchildren, this improved the psychological wellbeing of the grandparent rather than the child.

The researchers describe tangible support as rides to the store, assistance with money and help with household chores.

But when the grandparents were receiving tangible support themselves, they showed increased symptoms of depression.

Sara Moorman adds:

Grandparents who experienced the sharpest increases in depressive symptoms over time received tangible support, but did not give it.

There is a saying, ‘It is better to give than to receive.’ Our results support that folk wisdom – if a grandparent gets help, but can not give it, he or she feels badly.”

However, results of the analysis showed that grandparents who both gave and received tangible support had the fewest symptoms of depression over time.

Moorman says these results show that encouraging more grandparents and adult grandchildren to engage in this type of exchange could be a fruitful way of reducing depression in older adults.

But Moorman notes that the research suggests that efforts to strengthen families should not stop with immediate families, or those with younger children, explaining:

“Extended family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren, serve important functions in one another’s daily lives throughout adulthood.”

The researchers say the study also indicates that helping to ensure older people retain their independence could help their psychological wellbeing.

“Most of us have been raised to believe that the way to show respect to older family members is to be solicitous and to take care of their every need,” adds Moorman. “But all people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent.”