The researchers noted that having someone around, or most of the time, to rely on when you need to talk – a measure of your brain’s ability to perform better – is linked to greater cognitive resilience to work for the amount of physical aging – or the disease. related changes in the brain that many neuroscientists believe can be stimulated through mentally stimulating activities, exercise, and positive social interactions.
“We think of cognitive resilience as a buffer to the effects of brain aging and disease,”
said lead researcher Dr. Joel Salinas, Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Center for Cognitive Neurology at New York University School of Medicine.
“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.”
About 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive disease that primarily affects people over the age of 65 that affects memory, language, decision making, and the ability to live independently.
Salinas said that although the disease usually affects the elderly population, the results of this study suggest that people under the age of 65 benefit from their social support assessment. For each unit of reduced brain volume, people between 40 and 50 years of age with low listening age had a cognitive age that was four years older than those with high 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.”
Salinas also recommends that doctors include this question in a standard part of a patient social interview story: asking patients if they have access to someone they can count on to listen when they need to talk.
“Loneliness is one of the many symptoms of depression and has other health implications for patients,” says Salinas. “These questions about a person’s social relationships and feelings of loneliness can teach you a lot about the patient’s general social condition, future health, and how he or she will manage outside the clinic.”
How is the study conducted?
The researchers used one of the longest-running and most closely monitored communities in the United States, the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), as a source of 2,171 participants in their study, with a median age of 63 years.
FHS participants themselves reported having supportive social interactions, including listening, good advice, love and compassion, adequate contact with loved ones, and emotional support.
Study participants’ cognitive resilience was measured as the relative effect of total brain volume on global cognition using MRI scans and neuropsychological assessment as part of the FHS.
Lower brain volume tends to be associated with lower cognitive function, and in this study researchers examined the modifying effects of various forms of social support on the relationship between brain volume and cognitive performance.
The cognitive function of those with greater availability of certain forms of social support was higher than their total brain volume. A key form of this social support is listener availability and is strongly associated with greater cognitive resilience.
The researchers note that further studies of individual social interactions could improve understanding of the biological mechanisms linking psychosocial factors to brain health.
“While there is still much we don’t understand about the specific biological pathways between psychosocial factors, such as audience attendance and brain health, this research provides evidence for specific biological reasons why we should all seek out good listeners and become better listeners. ,” said Salinas of a study published Aug. 16 in JAMA Network Open.