A cure for ageing? Take a grandchild once a week.

This article originally appeared in 774 ABC on 21 October. View the original and listen to recording of interview with Associate Professor Cassandra Szoeke and Katherine Burn

Want a pill that can improve cognitive and executive function? Need a drug that can turn the clock on your brain backwards by approximately ten years? Apparently on exists, it's called your grandchildren and it works by spending just one day a week looking after them!

What if I told you there was a pill that had just been discovered that would halt the effects of ageing on your brain, increase memory loss, increase executive function and could essentially turn back the clock for the equivalent of ten years, you would want to take it and you would imagine the scientists behind the research would be due at the very least a Nobel Prize for Medicine!

Unfortunately this amazing cognitive boost is not a pill but a lifestyle modification and you might be holding it in your arms right now! I'm talking about grandchildren and Melbourne University's School of Medicine is currently analysing complex neuropsychological testing results that seems to show that women who care for grandchildren for one day a week have better late-life cognition.

Associate Professor Cassandra Szoeke from the University of Melbourne Faculty of Medicine and Katherine Burn Psychologist completing her PhD at the University of Melbourne, are the lead researchers behind this potentially life-changing study.

The researchers had a clue that social interaction was an indicator of cognitive and emotional health for older women.. but was caring for grandchildren enough of a social interaction or even a superior social interaction for older people? The Women's Healthy Ageing Study involving 186 Australian women, ages 57 to 68, took three different tests of mental sharpness working memory and mental processing speed.. Among the 120 grandmothers, those who spent one day a week taking care of grandchildren performed best on two of the three tests. The key here is that once a week is an optimal time for child-minding... if you mind grandchildren for more than one day a week your performance is worse that those who have that once a week commitment.

Preserving aging cognition improves quality of life and delays dementia onset. Previous scientific studies have shown that social engagement can maintain cognition; however, none has examined the effects of grand parenting, an important role among postmenopausal women. This study would seem to show that grand parenting can dramatically improve cognition among postmenopausal women.

In an earlier podcast on Babytalk we examined something anthropologists have called 'The Grandmother Hypothesis'. The grandmother hypothesis lays the evolution of the human race at the feet of the highly efficient post-reproductive women who were able to care for the children allowing fertile women to keep having babies. This was in contrast to the hunting males who died fairly quickly once their hunting prowess died away. From this evaluation of the cognitive benefit of interaction with grandchildren evolution may have also produced a pay-off to post-menopausal women too..

The investigators are already obviously following up with more research.