Research: Parenthood prolongs life at all stages

BY DR. DAVID LIPSCHITZ Modified: January 10, 2013 at 9:07 am •  Published: January 14, 2013
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At every stage of life, being a parent prolongs life.

I am truly blessed to have six beautiful children ranging from 24 to 46. Scattered throughout the United States, all are grown, have finished college and are pursuing lives and careers on their own.

Like so many parents, I know they are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I am not surprised that new research shows that having children promotes a longer and healthier life.

In a study conducted in Denmark and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 21,000 couples that registered for in vitro fertilization treatment were followed from 1994 to 2005.

By 2008, 15,000 children had been born and 1,564 more were adopted.

Although deaths during this time were rare (98 women and 220 men), childbearing women were four times less likely to die than those who were childless. Men with children had a two-fold less chance of dying, whether their children were biological or adopted. But adopted children did not prolong life among the women.

This is one of many studies that have shown that children promote a longer life.

Some have suggested that the longer life expectancy of parents is related to greater responsibility and healthier lifestyles. But more plausible to me is the powerful role that love and nurturing play in longevity. From what I have seen of men and women, I believe that having children is more beneficial for women because nurturing and developing the child become central in more women's lives. Being a nurturer promotes powerful biologic changes that without question lead to a better and a longer life.

The benefits of having children become most important when a parent reaches 80 and beyond. Here the closer a parent lives to the children, the longer the life expectancy and the greater the chance the parent will remain independent.

But life expectancy remains 30 percent greater for a parent who has a child living more than 1,000 miles away compared to someone who is childless.

More than 50 percent of 85-year-olds are unable to live alone and thus become dependent on others for most of their needs. The cause is either memory loss or physical disability. Commonly, the burden of providing care falls on a spouse, but after a parent has died, a child — most frequently a daughter — becomes the caregiver of the surviving parent.

My clinic is very similar to a pediatric clinic, but instead of a parent (usually a mother) taking a child to the doctor, the child (usually a daughter) takes the parent. Occasionally a son becomes the caregiver, and for me as a geriatrician, nothing is more inspirational than seeing a son doing everything possible for his parents even when daughters are close by.

As a caregiver, a nurturing adult child becomes central in prolonging and improving the quality of the parent's life. This can be one of the most spiritually rewarding and loving times for parent and child. It can also be very difficult.

Often, the parent wants to retain independence, to live at home at great risk of personal harm, and so refuses help. The child wants the parent to be safe and begs to move in, or to move the parent to an assisted living facility or nursing home. The caregiving daughter is subjected to a great deal of stress made worse by the demands of her own spouse, family and job.

Each of the older people I meet tells me they want to live long and healthy lives but, most importantly, they never want to depend on anyone — least of all their children.

As another year, with its hopes and promises, unfolds, we should remember the blessings we have received from our children. But also understand how much we have given them and how much they owe us. As the baby boomers reach 85 and beyond, their sheer numbers will make it impossible to survive without help from their children.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. More information is available at: www.drdavidhealth.com

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