Being Listened to Reduces Cognitive Decline

Feeling heard and understood is a basic need at any age. In fact, evidence suggests that having someone to talk to and listen to you reverses cognitive decline.
Being Listened to Reduces Cognitive Decline

Last update: 15 September, 2021

Being listened to in a genuine close and sensitive way is more than just a gift. In fact, it helps both your physical and psychological health. Furthermore, according to recent studies, something as basic as this can actually reduce cognitive decline. Therefore, you might well reach old age with better brain function. For this reason, you also shouldn’t hesitate to be a good listener to those closest to you.

Undoubtedly, you know how important good communication is, both for your own well-being and in your relationships. However, it’s not just a case of having one or more people with whom you can share your thoughts, needs, and experiences. You also need to know that they’re listening to you and understanding you. Nevertheless, this isn’t always so easy to achieve.

There might be those you share your life with, but they’re still, effectively, unavailable. For example, they might nod and smile at you, but you soon realize that they’re miles away. As a matter of fact, some people only listen to you to give basic responses or even to contradict you. Then, there are those who simply don’t have the patience or emotional ability to connect with you empathically.

Feeling heard is a basic need for human well-being at any age. We need to bear this in mind.

“We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.”

-Diogenes Laërtius-

Women talking symbolizing the importance of having someone listen to you

Being listened to reverses cognitive decline

Effective and productive communication requires you to be a good listener. Life is complicated and if there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear, it’s that we all have our own version of things. Therefore, if you’re not able to listen in order to understand the realities of others, it’ll be difficult for you to reach agreements with them or even to be able to live together in harmony.

However, there’s another key aspect. It’s the fact that you listen for more than just solving problems or reaching agreements. In fact, listening to others means giving them presence and validating them. It means connecting with their reality without judging to let them know “I’m here for you”. It implies you know how to go beyond words with your non-verbal communication, gestures, tone of voice, etc.

Having someone to listen to you is essential, right back to when you were a child. In fact, New York University Medical School recently conducted a study in which they confirmed that when you’re listened to daily, your brain health improves. Furthermore, it can even act as a buffer against Alzheimer’s disease.

Meaningful social interactions improve cognitive function

In the field of neurodegenerative diseases, there’s one curious piece of evidence that continues to attract the attention of experts. It’s the fact that postmortem tests of many older adults showed obvious signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain that never actually developed. What could be the cause?

All the mechanisms that prevent this disease from progressing haven’t yet been identified. However, we know that factors such as maintaining an active and quality social life act as a buffer. Furthermore, thanks to work published in the JAMA Network Open journal, it’s been discovered that having someone listen to you favors what’s known as cognitive resilience.

Cognitive resilience and everyday emotional support

Having many friends, family, and a partner may or may not be rewarding. It all depends on the quality of the bond and the emotional connection. For instance, sometimes, people can have a large social network yet still feel the unbearable weight of loneliness. On the other hand, some people have just two or three friendships, yet they’re enriching and gratifying in every way.

Having someone to listen to you means you have someone to share your fears, joys, needs, and concerns, etc. Having good emotional support gives you calmness and security. Your stress is reduced, you see hope in days of darkness, and your motivation and desire to carry on ignites…

All of this promotes cognitive resilience. In other words, the ability to cope with aging thanks to healthy brain functions. Consequently, processes such as memory, attention, problem-solving, reflection, and reasoning are preserved positively.

The New York University study has shown that having people listen to you helps you reach old age with a barely noticeable decrease in your brain volume. The probability of developing neurodegenerative diseases is also reduced.

Friends drinking coffee representing the importance of having someone listen to you

Having someone who listens to you and being a good listener to others is a key to good health

Having someone listen to you every time you need it brings you relief and satisfaction. Indeed, good friends, partners, or siblings can be your allies on life’s journey. However, don’t forget this means that you too must become a good listener.

Listening calmly, opening yourself to the realities of others, and leaving your own aside for a moment is something you need to do. You must be emotionally present, empathetically close, and genuinely connected with the others in your life. This improves both your own well-being and that of the people you love. It’s a simple act but it means so much.

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  • Joel Salinas et al. Association of Social Support With Brain Volume and Cognition. JAMA Netw Open, 2021 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.21122
  • Imhof, Margarete. (1998). What Makes a Good Listener? Listening Behavior in Instructional Settings. International Journal of Listening. 12. 10.1080/10904018.1998.10499020.