Can grandkids keep Alzheimer's at bay?

Posted at 9:08 PM, Mar 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-30 00:08:50-04

Grandchildren may be a possible weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.  

A study in The Journal of the North American Menopause Society says grandmothers who babysit their grandkids once a week had “the highest cognitive scores.”

San Diego grandfather, Ernie McCray, has no trouble believing the findings. 

“I just think being active is the key to anything," he said.

McCray, a former principal with San Diego City Schools, was watching his grandson, Lyric, at Balboa Park. 

Two-year-old Lyric loves going up and down the slide at the playground known as “Toddler’s Park.”   

McCray watches him from the sidelines.  

“I'm 6'5" -- it's not a lot of fun going up there and ducking," he joked of the kiddie slide.

McCray babysits Lyric three days a week. It not only keeps him physically active, but mentally, too. Lyric’s not much of a talker, but he’s a good listener, says McCray.  

“He just started daycare,” said McCray. “I was talking to him about that, asking him about his experience, who’s his favorite friend. He just answered, 'YESSSSSSS.'”  

McCray says they have many conversations about things like dogs and sticks, the latter being one of Lyric’s favorite things.

“Family is really important to me,” said McCray.

But can babysitting really lower your chances of Alzheimer’s disease? When contacted by 10News, a spokeswoman at Alzheimer’s San Diego found the idea “a bit of a stretch,” but pointed out that “maintaining the health of your brain, like any part of your body, is critical as you get older, and of course, it can’t hurt!”

Alzheimer’s San Diego cited research by the National Institutes of Health which suggests, while there is no definitive way to prevent the disease, “mentally stimulating activities” may help the brain.  

Babysitting may fit the bill, in moderation.  

The babysitting study, which focused on Australian women, found that “minding grandchildren for five days or more per week predicts lower working memory performance and processing speed.” 

In other words, too much babysitting equals slower memory skills.  

The grandmothers who scored highest on memory tests were the ones who babysat once a week.

The CDC describes Alzheimer’s disease as a “progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss, possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.”  

For more information on Alzheimer’s San Diego: