Everyone appreciates a good listener. But not everybody has someone with a sympathetic ear available when they need to talk. And that, new research indicates, might have consequences for their brain health.
People with supportive listeners tend to have greater cognitive resilience that might help prevent cognitive decline. That’s according to a study by medical researchers at New York University.
They say their findings suggest that study participants with this social support have stronger cognitive function than expected given the age- or disease-related changes seen in their brains. Scientists believe that resilience acts as a buffer to some of the mental infirmities of aging.
Researchers came to that conclusion after analyzing data from more than 2,100 people who self-reported their social interactions and then underwent brain scans and neuropsychological assessments. The scans measured participant brain volume, with lower volumes associated with diminished cognitive function.
The average age of the group was 63. The investigation, however, shows results might not just be applicable to older adults. People in their 40s and 50s who didn’t have access to good listeners had brains that were, cognitively speaking, four years older than those who had high-listener availability.
Investigators believe their findings are important enough to merit physicians adding a standard question about social history during a patient interview.
All this points to the importance of seeking out good listeners when our lives offer a challenge we don’t want to handle alone. And as the NYU scientists note, it demonstrates the need to be better listeners ourselves.