When we take the time to listen to someone, we help them feel more heard, valued, and cared for. As it turns out, we may actually be helping them stave off cognitive decline, too.
A new study lead by a researcher from NYU looked at how supportive interactions with friends and loved ones impact cognitive function. It was found that the more a person had supportive listening, the greater their cognitive resilience. The study can be found in JAMA Network Open.
Dr. Joel Salinas, lead researcher and professor of neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, says, “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.”
To conduct the study, researchers used nearly 2,200 participants from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. Their average age was 63. Participants were asked about how often they had supportive social interactions, including someone to listen to them, give advice, share love and affection, and offer emotional support. The research team then looked at MRI scans and neuropsychological assessments taken during the heart study.
Researchers say that those who frequently had a listening ear had a higher cognitive function than they should have based on their total cerebral volume. It’s not yet known why this is, but it may provide an easy and supportive way to help keep our loved ones’ brains healthy as long as possible.
Dr. Salinas explains, “While there is still a lot that we don’t understand about the specific biological pathways between psychosocial factors like listener availability and brain health, this study gives clues about concrete, biological reasons why we should all seek good listeners and become better listeners ourselves.”
The findings may also be helpful for younger people. Building up a strong and supportive social network sooner in life could mean prolonging your own cognitive health. The researchers say for every unit of decline in brain volume, people in their 40s and 50s who did not often have a listening ear were four years older cognitively than those who did.
Dr. Salinas says, “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. 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 findings support other research that has shown the link between socializing and cognitive health.Whizzco