Caring for grandchildren is good for older people’s health and those who continue to work at least part time after retirement tend to have the best physical and mental health.
That is according to studies presented to Europe’s biggest conference on ageing, which opened in Dublin on Thursday.
Researchers at Kings College, London, found looking after grandchildren is beneficial for the health of older people – even if they are looking after grandchildren for more than 20 hours a week.
Grandparents who have had prior ill-health or low incomes also appear to benefit from caring for young grandchildren, according to the study.
The research team studied the health histories of older people caring for their grandchildren and factored in life experiences such as their marital history and experiences of bereavement.
The authors of the study found some evidence to suggest “less is more” in that less intensive child care appeared to be more beneficial than spending long hours minding young children.
The four-day conference of the International Association of Geriatrics and Gerontology (IAGG) was opened by Taoiseach Enda Kenny who welcomed delegates to Ireland.
Mr Kenny pointed out half of the hip replacements in the world were now made in Ireland. This “osteo-diaspora” he said, was now ensuring people across the world had “a little bit of Irishness in their bones”.
Professor Desmond O’Neill of the Centre for Medical Gerontology at TCD told the delegates he was troubled by the expression of the “caring burden” on those who care for the elderly, because older people did not like to be portrayed as a burden.
He said “burdensome aspects of care” was a better description and he went on to mention many writers and artists who had created great works of art when in old age.
He referenced Francis Beacon and the “senile squalor” of his studio, now relocated in the Hugh Lane Gallery, from which Beacon continued to produce art late in his life. It was he said an example of “growth and loss existing simultaneously”.
More than 1,260 research submissions from 58 countries will be presented at the four-day congress featuring key-note addresses from 30 world ranking specialists on gerontology and geriatrics.
Among the presentations are studies which show that one-fifth of vulnerable older people are neglecting themselves.
According to a team of researchers from UCC determined self-neglect by older people such as not eating, washing or having regular medical check-ups is a growing concern.
According to the study health and social professionals find it difficult to intervene effectively when older clients fail to look after their needs.
Researchers found background self-neglect accounted for 18 per cent to 20 per cent or one-fifth of all cases reported to specialist social workers. The researchers also found 5 per cent of elder-abuse cases also involved elements of self-neglect.
Complementary work at the University of Sussex found that mental capacity and the refusal by some older people to accept support or assistance was a factor in three-quarters of the self-neglect cases they studied.
They highlight the need for clear follow-up pathways for social service agencies and moves to build personal trust between carers and those experiencing self-neglect.
Another strand of reseach examines the extent to which leaving school during a recession can be a life-long handicap.
According to this Euro-wide study of more than 10,200 older people children who grow up in deprivation will probably see “hard times” follow them to the grave. Researchers in Britain and Germany looked at the lifetime experiences of retired workers in 13 European countries. They found that those with advantages when young and who get secure jobs have a higher quality of life in their older years.
It is the first general study of the relationship between childhood experiences and labour market disadvantages with quality of life in older years.
A third strand of research is whether women aged over-55 are forced into retirement.
This is a research topic explored by a team at Laurea University in Finland which looked at the employment prospects for women aged between 55 and 64. The researchers found that efforts to promote longer working lives had extended them by just nine months on average, well short of a five years target.