Often when it comes to preventing disease, we look at exercise and nutrition to make changes, or even shrug it off as genetics and the cards we’ve been dealt, but it seems the simple act of talking to someone has the power to stave off Alzheimer’s.
As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved, and never has the phrase rang so true.
A new study supports the theory that social interaction boosts cognitive resilience, which is the measure of your brain’s ability to function compared to its physical age.
Speaking about the fascinating findings, lead researcher Joe Salinas explained how cognitive resilience acts as a buffer to the effects of brain ageing and disease that can significantly impact the way we live our lives in our 40s and 50s rather than waiting until we hit 65+.
The American neurologist explained: “This study adds to growing evidence that people can take steps to increase the odds they’ll slow down cognitive ageing or prevent the development of symptoms of Alzheimer’s – something that is important given we still don’t have a cure.”
He continued: “Too often we think about how to protect our brain when we’re much older, after we’ve already lost a lot of time decades before to build and sustain brain-healthy habits.”
Salinas encourages people to start questioning if they have someone to listen to them in a supportive way, as this sets the wheels in motion to have better odds for long-term brain health.
In addition to this, Salinas urges doctors to take responsibility and ask people during standard patient interviews if they have access to someone they can talk to if and when in need.
With small steps we could create big change as Alzheimer’s is currently the most frequent cause of dementia in Western societies, with an estimated 24million people affected worldwide.
Salinas added: “These kinds of questions about a person’s relationships and feelings of loneliness can tell you a lot about a patient’s broader social circumstances and their future health.”
The study involved asking thousands of participants (with an average age of 63) about their supportive social interactions – including listening, good advice, love, and emotional support.
Following this, MRI scans were performed on participants to analyse cognitive resilience by looking at the total cerebral brain volume in relation to cognition.
The results showed that those with lower brain volumes tend to associate with lower cognitive function, while those with higher volumes correlated with higher function.
While there is still a lot to explore about specific biological pathways between psychosocial factors, like listener availability and brain health, Salinas and his team said the findings show “concrete” results that social support equates to greater cognitive resilience.
Salinas concluded: “This study gives clues about concrete, biological reasons why we should all seek good listeners and become better listeners ourselves.”
So, remember, if someone tells you off for spending too much time on WhatsApp, you might be able to wing it and say the messaging is for the good of your health.