Talking About Your Problems Can Slow Down Alzheimer’s

Smiling female nurse sitting with an elderly woman on a couch.

Research shows that supportive listening can reduce the degeneration of your brain. (Image: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via Dreamstime)

Research shows that supportive listening can reduce the degeneration of your brain from conditions like Alzheimer’s.  

Although information technology now accounts for the way most people interact these days, many people still feel lonely. People feel that they have no one to share their thoughts with, or they do not know how to express themselves when troubled.  

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Society needs to acknowledge this as soon as possible, because with aging, the brain can degenerate and neuropathogenic changes might develop such as Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to dementia. According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s disease could account for as many as 6 million deaths in the United States, while CDC data lists Alzheimer’s as the sixth highest cause of death behind heart disease, cancer, and respiratory disease.

Emotional support 

If you have emotional support from somebody who will listen, the damage brought on by the degeneration of the brain might be delayed.  

A study published in JAMA Network Open disclosed that those who have relatives or friends willing to listen to them tend to develop cognitive resilience, which delays the degeneration of the brain induced by aging or brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.  

Female hands gently cupped around male hands beside an Alzheimer`s word cloud on a dark rustic background.
Those who have relatives or friends willing to listen to them tend to develop cognitive resilience which delays the degeneration of the brain induced by Alzheimer’s disease. (Image: Nikki Zalewski via Dreamstime)

Cognitive functions are crucial because they involve learning, thinking, reasoning, solving problems, making decisions, memorizing and concentrating, and so on. When the brain volume is reduced by one unit, the impact on the cognitive functions and the degeneration of the brain is inversely related to the number of listeners one has. 

The conclusion is that when you are willing to speak out about your worries and take the initiative to maintain good relationships and make friends, your brain will benefit. People listening to you can help you stay away from feeling down and depressed, which also helps delay dementia. 

Speaking about your worries keeps you healthy? 

Dr. Joel Salinasn, a neurologist from the New York University Longone Health medical center pointed out that having listeners not only maintains the brain’s cognitive functions, but also reduces damage to health due to aging, such as that caused by stress hormones or vascular disease. Stress hormones may undermine immunity and induce faster aging. 

Stress is common in modern society. Without listeners or willingness to find listeners, stress will rise to a degree that may induce physical and mental malfunctions. The increasing occurrence of autonomic disorders is closely associated with stress. With people around to listen and even provide suggestions or support, your stress can be reduced and mental and physical health can benefit. 

This study shows that it is important not only to express your worries to others, but also to be willing to help by listening. When people show their care for others by listening to them, everyone benefits. For instance, if adult children keep their parents company and listen to them, their parents will show fewer signs of aging or dementia. If parents communicate effectively with their children and encourage them to speak up about their worries, the children tend to be mentally healthy when they grow up. 

Depressed young man sitting in a chair with his head in his hand while a male and female friend try to comfort him.
When people show their care for others by listening to them, everyone benefits. (Image: Vadimgozhda via Dreamstime)

Practice makes perfect 

“It takes practice to speak of one’s worries,” said Ke Junming, a clinical psychologist. “I serve in a prison full of drug addicts. When asked why they used drugs, they usually answered that they had stress but no one to tell.” Those addicts include physicians, nurses, professors, teachers, engineers, etc. Most of them use drugs due to stress from issues such as workplace problems, emotional upsets, or workplace bullying.”

Their situation is like the well-known southern Hokkien song Who Knows What’s On Your Mind? They do not have any ways to release their stress, or anyone to talk to, and they do not know how to speak their minds. As the lyrics of the song say: “Because of the habit of not speaking out in the past, I am afraid that it will be useless to say anything.” 

What should you do as a listener? 

It is important to find the right listener. Ke Jungming suggests that the right listener could be a trusted friend/family member or a professional clinical consultant. 

The listener should avoid some improper behaviors in order to achieve a good outcome. 

ALF acronym (always listen first) written on a blackboard with colored chalk.
There are some behaviors the listener should avoid in order to achieve a good outcome. (Image: Yeyendesign via Dreamstime)

Ke Jungming suggests the following principles: 

  1. Do not push, just show your care and let the other party know that you are ready to listen when there is a need. 
  2. Choose a place where you can relax and speak easily. Avoid a noisy space or any place you may be interrupted. Avoid any time that you feel sleepy. 
  3. Do not ask questions when listening. Eye contact, providing tissues, putting a hand on the shoulder, etc., are permissible. Avoid looking at your cell phone while with the person, which creates a sense of indifference. 
  4. After listening, provide warm reactions, repeat what you heard, and give support. 
  5. Ask how the other party feels and if any help is needed. 
  6. Do not make subjective judgments. Ke emphasized that nowadays, many people want to finish a conversation within a limited time, and frequently speak before they finish listening to the whole story. This tends to cause a negative outcome.  
  7. Provide positive feedback, avoiding negative feedback that might make things worse and induce more stress. Sometimes, all the other party needs is someone to listen, not opinions. 
  8. After listening, remember to stay clear and not be affected by it. 

For resources, diagnosis, support, clinical trials, and fact sheets on Alzheimer’s, go to the National Institute on Aging.

Translated by Audrey Wang

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