Having a good listener 'improves your brain health'

New research has shown that having somebody to listen to you when you talk gives you greater cognitive resilience.

Researchers found an association between having someone you can count on to listen to you when you speak and greater cognitive resilience, or your brain's ability to function better than expected for the amount of physical ageing or disease-related changes in the brain.

They also found that supportive social interactions in adulthood are important in staving off cognitive decline despite brain ageing or brain changes such as those present in Alzheimer's disease.

"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," said lead researcher Joel Salinas, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine.

Although Alzheimer's disease mostly affects those aged over 65, the study findings indicate that younger people would benefit from taking a look at their social support. The findings showed that for every unit of decline in brain volume, those in their forties and fifties with low listener availability had a cognitive age that was four years older than those with high listener availability.

"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," said Salinas. "But today, right now, you can ask yourself if you truly have someone available to listen to you in a supportive way... 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."

Salinas wants doctors to consider asking patients about their social support during questionnaires as loneliness can have significant health impacts.

The study involved 2,171 participants, with an average age of 63. The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

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