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Having Someone to Talk to ‘Could Stave Off Alzheimer’s’, Researchers Find

Supportive social interactions in adulthood are important to your ability to avoid cognitive decline, a new study finds.

The researchers found that simply having someone available most or all of the time that you can count on to listen to you when you need to speak is associated with increased cognitive resilience, a measure of your brain’s ability to function better than what would be expected by the amount of physical aging, or disease-related brain changes, that many neurologists believe can be enhanced by engaging in mentally stimulating activities, physical exercise, and positive social interactions.

“We think of cognitive resilience as a buffer from the effects of aging and brain disease,” says lead researcher Joel Salinas, MD, Lulu P. associate professor of neurology and David J. Levidow at the University’s Grossman School of Medicine. of New York and member of the Center for Cognitive Neurology of the Department of Neurology.

“This study adds to growing evidence that people can take steps, either for themselves or for the people who matter most to them, to increase the chances that they will delay cognitive aging or prevent the development of symptoms of the disease. Alzheimer’s disease, something that is all the more important given that we still don’t have a cure for the disease. “

An estimated 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive condition that primarily affects people over the age of 65 and interferes with memory, language, decision-making, and the ability to live independently.

Salinas says that while the disease generally affects an older population, the results of this study indicate that people younger than 65 would benefit from taking stock of their social support. For each unit of decrease in brain volume, individuals in their 40s and 50s with low listening availability had a cognitive age four years older than those with high listening availability.

“These four years can be incredibly valuable. Too often we think about how to protect our brain health when we are much older, having wasted a lot of time decades earlier building and maintaining healthy brain habits, ”says Salinas.

“But today, right now, you can ask yourself if you really have someone available to listen to you in an understanding way and ask the same of your loved ones. Taking that simple action sets the process in motion so that you ultimately have the best chance of long-term brain health and the best quality of life you can have. “

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Salinas also recommends that clinicians consider adding this question to the standard part of the social history of a patient interview: asking patients if they have access to someone they can count on to listen to them when they need to speak.

“Loneliness is one of the many symptoms of depression and has other implications for the health of patients,” says Salinas. “These kinds of questions about a person’s social relationships and feelings of loneliness can tell you a lot about a patient’s broader social circumstances, their future health, and how they are really doing outside of the clinic.”

How does the study was realized

The researchers used one of the longest running and most closely monitored community cohorts in the US, the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), as the source for their 2,171 study participants, with a mean age of 63 years.

FHS participants self-reported the availability of supportive social interactions including listening, good advice, love and affection, sufficient contact with close people, and emotional support.

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The cognitive resilience of study participants was measured as the relative effect of total brain volume on global cognition, using MRI scans and neuropsychological assessments taken as part of the FHS.

Lower brain volumes tend to be associated with lower cognitive function, and in this study, researchers examined the modifying effect of individual forms of social support on the relationship between brain volume and cognitive performance.

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The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of a specific form of social support was greater in relation to their total brain volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and was highly associated with increased cognitive resilience.

The researchers note that further study of individual social interactions can improve understanding of the biological mechanisms that link psychosocial factors to brain health.

“While there is still much we do not understand about the specific biological pathways between psychosocial factors such as listener availability and brain health, this study provides clues to specific biological reasons why we should all seek out good listeners and become better listeners ourselves. themselves. Salinas says of the study, which was published on August 16 in JAMA network open.

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