While maintaining social distancing during the pandemic we learned just how vital our relationships are to our overall health and well-being. Although it may not be necessary to have a large group of friends, having a close confidant who is also a good listener may help adults ward off cognitive decline in older age.
According to a recent study out of the New York University School of Medicine, having someone you can count on to offer a listening ear is linked with more cognitive resilience and protection against brain aging and disease.
Although Alzheimer’s dementia is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 65, taking steps to support brain health with lifestyle choices is important for adults in their 40s and 50s. In addition to eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and sleeping well, cultivating supportive friendships and family relationships is also a key factor in aging well.
The study asked 2,171 adults over 45 who had not had a stroke or dementia whether they had someone they could count on to listen, give good advice, show love and affection, and provide emotional support. They were also asked if they had as much contact as they would like with a close and trusted confidant. The results showed that socialization is an important factor in protecting memory and cognition.
Having someone to listen to our worries and fears or to celebrate our successes not only helps us feel less lonely and more connected but can also help prevent depression that can harm physical and cognitive health. It is not clear to researchers exactly why having a listener helps brain health, but the study serves as a reminder to take time to listen to the people we love. It’s never too late to cultivate the positive relationships that bring joy and promote a more engaged and independent older age.