Having someone to talk to may slow cognitive decline

A group of mature and senior friends hanging out together, standing outdoors on a patio conversing, drinking coffee

Supportive social interactions in adulthood are important for your ability to stave off cognitive decline despite brain aging or neuropathological changes such as those present in Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers used data from 2,171 participants part of the Framingham Heart Study. The participants, who were an average age of 63, self-reported information on the availability of supportive social interactions including listening, good advice, love and affection, sufficient contact with people they’re close with, and emotional support.

Researchers then measured the study participant’s brain and its ability to function better than would be expected for the amount of physical aging or disease-related changes in the brain, or cognitive resilience. MRI scans and neuropsychological assessments taken as part of the FHS were critical to measuring the relative effect of total cerebral brain volume on global cognition. Lower brain volumes tend to associate with lower cognitive function. And in this study, researchers also examined the modifying effect of individual forms of social support on the relationship between cerebral volume and cognitive performance.

The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of one specific form of social support was higher relative to their total cerebral volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and it was highly associated with greater cognitive resilience. The study was partly-funded by NHLBI.