The Health Benefits of a Good Listener
Having someone to talk to can boost brain power and help stall dementia
Visit with someone who lives alone or otherwise feels socially isolated and you’ll likely find they’re eager, even desperate, for a little conversation. We humans love to talk, and we need someone who will listen. Turns out having a good listener around is a serious matter of mental health.
Having good listeners to interact with can help keep a person’s brain sharper longer, new research suggests. And the sooner in life we establish and cultivate such relationships, the better.
“People who have a good listener in their life are more likely to have a brain that sustains its raw ‘horsepower’ over time,” says study leader Joel Salinas, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “Cultivating an available pool of good listeners in your life — and being a good listener for others — may actually increase cognitive capability and brain health over time.”
The research, detailed Aug. 16 in the journal JAMA Network Open, involved brain scans on more than 2,000 U.S. adults to measure brain volume (low volume can contribute to cognitive decline). Brain function was also measured in cognitive tests, and the researchers asked several questions about participants’ social support and relationships.
People in their 40s, 50s, and early 60s with low brain volume who lacked access to a trusted listener scored on mental tests as though they were cognitively 4.25 years older than their actual age (translation: they were worse off). However, people with low brain volume but high listener availability had more cognitive resilience, suffering a mere three months of cognitive age decline, as it’s called.
Though younger people were not included in the study, this and other research suggest the findings may apply across the adult life span.
“It’s possible that the findings may be relevant to adults in their 20s and 30s,” Salinas tells me. “And I would wager that it may follow a similar pattern to what is seen with other activities and behaviors that promote health, like physical activity or healthy diet, where the earlier in…