Health and Health Perceptions Among Kenyan Grandparents

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Abstract

The dramatic increase in the aging population in developed countries has led to an explosion of research on health and aging in the United States. Few studies, however, have been conducted in developing countries, even though many of these populations are experiencing a faster rate of growth in the 65+ population. Thus, although our knowledge of health and aging has increased, our knowledge of the variation in health as people age is limited. While the numbers of older adults is increasing in Africa, very little is known about the health and well-being of African elders. Recently, a growing number of researchers have focused on the plight of elders who find themselves caring for orphaned grandchildren. While several anecdotal reports have suggested that this new burden negatively impacts their health, there are few studies that systematically examine the health of African elders. As part of the Kenyan Grandparents Study, the health of 287 grandparents (age 73±8) was examined using multiple methods including objective measures, clinical history, physical examination, and a modified version of the SF-36. Although all health variables were correlated with each other, different patterns were found between predictor variables and the various measures of health. Caregiving status was only associated with mental health, with caregivers having better mental health than non-caregivers. Age was associated with poorer health as measured by several SF-36 scales, physical exam, and body mass index (BMI). Women generally had a greater number of health complaints and lower quality of life as measured by the SF-36. Higher socioeconomic status was associated with better health as measured by physical exam, clinical history, SF-36, and BMI. Caring for a greater number of orphans was associated with better health on examination but no other measure of health. More social support was associated with better physical function and general health as measured by the SF-36. These data suggest that there is no strong evidence that caregiving results in poor health.

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