Why having a good listener in your life is important for brain health

 

Spending time with a good listener not only feels great, it may be key to keeping the brain healthy as people age.

Adults who reported having lots of access to someone who could listen to them when they needed to talk had a younger “cognitive age” then those who had fewer opportunities to share their thoughts with a friend or loved one.

“High listener availability seemed to create a protective buffer against brain shrinkage and other structural brain changes that everyone experiences to some degree with aging, researchers reported in JAMA Network Open.”

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“How’s the new web?” 

“The exact mechanisms for this effect aren’t clear, but one theory is that being with a good listener stimulates many parts of the brain, boosting its neuroplasticity — the ability to rewire and adapt, said Dr. Joel Salinas, an assistant professor of neurology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and lead author of the study.”

“You’re creating conditions in your brain that function almost like Miracle-Gro, where you have many brain cells connecting with each other and creating spares,” Salinas told TODAY.

“So even if you do develop any kind of brain injury or disease, you have lots of spare pathways and the information still gets to where it needs to get to.”

Another possible explanation is that being with a good listener helps people manage the effects of chronic stress such as systemic inflammation and heart disease.

“For every unit of decline in brain volume, people in their 40s and 50s who had someone to listen to them had cognitive functioning that was four years younger than their peers who had little access to a good listener, the study found. That means possibly delaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias that show up later in life for millions of Americans.”

“As somebody who does Alzheimer’s research, that four years can make a big difference in terms of having time to spend with your friends and family, to continue your work, to be able to enjoy the things that really make your life meaningful,” Salinas noted.”

“If having a better listener who’s available to you confers some potential kind of protective effect, that’s something that is relatively inexpensive. Any of us can either cultivate it in our lives or actually be that good listener for other people in our life that we care about.”

“The data is based on 2,171 adults who were 45 years old or older and took part in the Framingham Study — one of the largest and longest-running cohorts in the U.S. Each person underwent a brain MRI and cognitive testing. They also shared information about their social support.”

“The researchers found having a good listener readily available in life was associated with greater cognitive resilience compared to being more isolated. That listener access was a more important factor than receiving advice, affection or emotional support from the other person, the study found.”

People who reported high listener availability sustained their brain’s “raw horsepower” over time regardless of its structural changes — performing better than might be expected based on their brain scans,” Salinas said.

“He encouraged all adults to take the time to cultivate an available pool of good listeners in their lives and be a good listener for others.”

“Similar to other factors that improve brain health — such as physical activity and a healthy diet — the earlier people get started, the more likely they are to accumulate benefits over time. It’s also important to pay attention to loneliness, Salinas said.”

“Loneliness is really a symptom of us feeling that we’re not getting the amount of social support that we want or need,” he noted. “Being able to create an environment where you can have people who you can reach out to when you need it can begin to offset some of these negative effects.”

NEW MIDDLE AGE

We give thanks to our good friends and to each other for listening and keeping our brains healthy!

Peggy and Judy

6 comments on “Why having a good listener in your life is important for brain health

  1. Thanks Judith, I attribute my brain help to all those hours you spent w me listening. Now, with diminished listeners available & so much life of craziness & news to discuss (& haven’t started talking to myself yet🥴) my younger decognitive age is going to grow faster. I guess Another thing regressing now being in my 80’s. 😤

    Sent from my iPhone Linda

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  2. This is amazing info and really highlights the importance of being heard. As an autistic person, this feels even more important, as so many people often talk for or over members of the autistic community, tone police us, intentionally or unintentionally gaslight us by denying that our experiences are as we say they are. It is SO valuable to have someone in your life as an autistic person who is willing to both listen to you AND hear you, to acknowledge what you’re saying, to give you the benefit of the doubt that you are capable of accurately perceiving and communicating your own experiences. I think it’s interesting that a lot of the diagnostic criteria for autism is really representative of traumatized autistic people and I feel that to a certain extent, that is because living in an environment where your experiences are constantly refuted and you’re constantly told that what you’re communicating simply could not really be true (for instance, “the lights are too bright!” Being met with, “no they’re not!” Or “those sounds are too loud!” Being met with, “no they’re not!” Etc.) you begin to doubt your own perceptions in exactly the same way as a victim of gaslighting would. It is SO therapeutic to have someone in your life who grants you to respect of acknowledging your stated experiences. For me, my active listener that is my husband. Even though he is not autistic, he listens with the intent to hear me and acknowledge me and doesn’t deny my reality. It’s crazy-making to have no one to talk to and worse, people to talk to who don’t TRULY listen. Thank you so much for sharing this info!!! 💜🙏

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    • And thank YOU for such an enlightening (and educational) response. What you share is so valuable. It is extraordinarily difficult at best and impossible at worst to put ourselves in other’s experiences but we can all listen. We really value knowing our readers points of view so thank you again.

      Liked by 1 person

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