Do you have a close friend—someone supportive and willing to listen to you even at 3:00 in the morning? I am fortunate that I do—and that is helping to protect my brain from the effects of aging.

We all know that social interaction is essential for brain health —but one kind of interaction is especially important. It is called “listener availability”—having people in your life who are available to listen to you when you need to talk. People with high listener availability have higher levels of cognitive function than would be expected for their age-related brain changes. Neurology specialist Joel Salinas, MD, PhD, from NYU Langone, explains how to cultivate this kind of social interaction…

Ask yourself if you have people who will listen in a supportive way. Who would you call with a crisis in the middle of the night?

Make it a priority to build a strong social network of positive, compassionate people who are there for you. In a perfect world, they should listen in person or over the phone—texting is not ideal because it doesn’t generate natural oxytocin (the “hug” hormone) the way that contact in real time does.

Start cultivating a network now. As we get older, our network tends to get smaller and it becomes harder to make new friends. Also, the earlier we build this brain-healthy habit, the more likely we are to accumulate the benefits.

Be the listener for others. This goes both ways—make yourself available to loved ones, especially those who may not have listeners of their own.

What a lovely way to keep our brains healthy!

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