Good friends are like a fine wine; they get you drunk in half of the time!
But, seriously, having positive relationships in your life can be a game-changer when it comes to your sense of happiness and well-being. Now, it looks like good friends can help your brain, too – especially as you age.
A recent study carried out by researchers from Northwestern University (NU) shows that there may be a link between positive relationships and brain health (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0186413). Over the course of nine years, researchers at NU examined men and women who have been labeled “SuperAgers” because they are over the age of 80 yet still have memories that are as good as, or superior to, people who are two to three decades younger. Every two years, these SuperAgers filled out surveys about their lives and took a wide range of tests, including brain scans, a neurological exam and neuropsychological tests.
When the project began, researchers were concerned they would not be able to locate enough of these individuals. However, they found 31 men and women who fit the bill, largely in Illinois with some from surrounding states. Results from a previous SuperAger study showed some differences in their brain structures, including age-related atrophy resistance, thicker cortexes, and a bigger left anterior cingulate (the part of the brain responsible for working memory and attention). However, researchers felt there was more to their unusual memories than brain structure features alone.
In the new study, the researchers asked the 31 SuperAgers and 19 non-SuperAger, older adults to complete a questionnaire about their psychological well-being. The SuperAgers stood out from the rest in one specific area: the high degree of satisfying, trusting and warm relationships in their lives. This finding is in line with other research showing that positive relationships may help prevent or slow cognitive decline as we age, such as a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that found engaging in social and leisure activities reduced an older person’s risk of dementia (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12048221).
Finding new friends may sound like a challenge at first, especially if you’re on the shy side or live in a more sparsely-populated area, but tech has actually made it easier than ever. Now, there are likely groups in your area you can connect with just by searching online, or you can even start your own. It’s never too late–or too early–in life to start expanding your circle of friends and boost your life.