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

Meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old

My meditation practice has always been sporadic and I’m not just talking about my “monkey mind” that leaps and roams . . . or falls asleep.  Needing a bit of discipline I joined a meditation group and in two months my brain will be younger and smarter.

Want proof?

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence that shows that meditation decreases stress, depression, and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia, and increases quality of life.

 One  study looked at long-term meditators (seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. “The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.”

“This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.”

Neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in the brain region, linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.

Wowza!

Just to make sure this wasn’t because the long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with, a second study was conducted in which they put people with no experience with meditation into an eight-week mindfulness program.

The results?

“Even just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).”

“Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.”

How long do you have to meditate to see such results?

“The study participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day. Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day”

In 8 weeks my brain will look and act half its age . . . .if only meditating could do the same for my body . . .

(jw)

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