Science

Being a better listener for your loved ones might protect their brain health, study finds

Supportive social interactions in adulthood are important for your ability to stave off cognitive decline, a new study finds.

In the study publishing August 16 in JAMA Network Open, researchers observed that simply having someone available most or all of the time whom you can count on to listen to you when you need to talk is associated with greater cognitive resilience — a measure of your brain’s ability to function better than would be expected for the amount of physical aging- or disease-related changes in the brain, which many neurologists believe can be boosted by engaging in mentally stimulating activities, physical exercise, and positive social interactions.

“We think of cognitive resilience as a buffer to the effects of brain aging and disease,” says lead researcher Joel Salinas, MD, the Lulu P. and David J. Levidow Assistant Professor of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and member of the Department of Neurology’s Center for Cognitive Neurology.

“This study adds to growing evidence that people can take steps, either for themselves or the people they care about most, to increase the odds they’ll slow down cognitive aging or prevent the development of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease — something that is all the more important given that we still don’t have a cure for the disease.”

An estimated 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive condition that affects mostly those over 65 and interferes with memory, language, decision-making, and the ability to live independently. Salinas says that while the disease usually affects an older population, the results of this study indicate that people younger than 65 would benefit from taking stock of their social support.

For every unit of decline in brain volume, individuals in their 40s and 50s with low listener availability had a cognitive age that was four years older than those with high listener availability. “These four years can be incredibly precious. Too often we think about how to protect our brain health when we’re much older after we’ve already lost a lot of time decades before to build and sustain brain-healthy habits,” says Salinas.

“But today, right now, you can ask yourself if you truly have someone available to listen to you in a supportive way, and ask your loved ones the same. Taking that simple action sets the process in motion for you to ultimately have better odds of long-term brain health and the best quality of life you can have.”

The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of one specific form of social support was higher relative to their total cerebral volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and it was highly associated with greater cognitive resilience. Researchers note that further study of individual social interactions may improve understanding of the biological mechanisms that link psychosocial factors to brain health.

ARTICLE: PATEL CHAITANYA

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: KTVZ.COM

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