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Posts Tagged ‘cognitive’

Photo: Suzanne and John’s Mom.
Suzanne and Kate on Cape Cod. They laugh a lot.

When I saw today’s article by Teddy Amenabar at the Washington Post, I knew it would be blog material. That’s not just because friends have been important to me since childhood (Hello, Hannah!), but because I’ve been learning about the particular virtues that conversation with friends has for older people. There’s the value of relaxing, having fun. But there are also cognitive benefits from focusing on what friends are saying and responding thoughtfully.

Amenabar writes, “One of the more surprising findings in the science of relationships is that both romance and friendship often start the same way — with a spark. … A growing body of research shows friends are essential to a healthy life — and they are just as important for our well-being as healthy eating habits or a good night’s sleep.

“ ‘We’ve always had this hierarchy of love with romantic love at the top and friendship seen as second class,’ said Marisa G. Franco, a professor at the University of Maryland and author of Platonic: How The Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends. …

“Platonic love trumps romantic love in a number of ways. People with strong friendships tend to have better mental health and studies suggest they’re in better physical health, as well. Researchers have found large social networks lower our risk of premature death more than exercise or dieting alone.

A six-year study of 736 middle-aged Swedish men found having a life partner didn’t affect the risk of heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease — but having friends did.

“A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a lot of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with few friends. Notably, having a social network of children and relatives did not affect survival rates. …

“There are multiple theories about the association between friendship and better health. Part of the effect may be due to the fact that it’s easier for healthy people to make friends. A strong social network could be an indicator that someone has more access to medical care. And, someone with more friends may just have a better support system to get a ride to the doctor’s office.

“But there is also a psychological effect of friendship that likely plays a role. Friends help us cope with stress. In one study at the University of Virginia, many people were intimidated at the prospect of climbing a steep hill. But researchers found that when people were standing next to a friend, they rated the hill less challenging than those who were alone.

Brain imaging studies suggest that friendship affects brain systems associated with reward, stress and negative emotions, offering an explanation for why social connection benefits mental health and well-being. Friendship even seems to affect our immune response. In one remarkable study, 276 healthy volunteers were given nose drops containing a cold virus. Those with diverse social ties were less likely to develop cold symptoms. …

“Friends don’t just appear out of thin air, Franco said. Here’s her advice for making new connections and maintaining the old ones.

Take the initiative. Trust your gut when you’re meeting new people. We’re particularly good at knowing when someone is a potential new friend (remember that spark). And, you should assume people like you. We often underestimate how positively others think of us, Franco said. …

Start with a text. Start small by scrolling through your phone and shooting a text message to an old friend you’ve been meaning to reconnect with.

Show your gratitude. If a potential friend reaches out to you to grab coffee or pizza, tell them how happy you are they reached out, and that you appreciate the effort, Franco said. In a University of Utah study, researchers asked 70 college freshman to keep a check list of certain interactions — like going to see a movie together or calling just to say hello — they did with new friends. After three months, the researchers found that close friendships were more likely to form when the pairs expressed affection to each other. …

Invite friends to things you’ve already planned. If it’s hard to find time for friends, think of the tasks you already have to accomplish and tag on a friend, Franco said. The next time you workout at the gym, for example, you could invite someone to join. ‘Ask yourself: Are there parts of your day right now that you’re doing anyway that you can just do in community with other people?’ Franco said.

Join a book club, take a class or play a sport. Regular interaction with people who share the same interests as you could lead to friendship. Another University of Maryland study that found cadets who sat next to each other in police academy were more likely to become close friends. …

“While having friends is good for your health, not having them can be detrimental.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loneliness has been associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. For older women, loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of heart disease by as much as 27 percent.

“Loneliness is essentially the perceived gap between the relationships you have and the relationships you want in your life, said Adam Smiley Poswolsky, the author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.

“A 2018 study found that loneliness is common across age groups. … Social media can exacerbate our perception of loneliness by bombarding us with photos and videos of friends and acquaintances seemingly spending their time without us, said Poswolsky.

“[Said] Poswolsky, ‘No one feels like they can talk about it because there’s a lot of shame associated with loneliness.’

Billy Baker, the author of We Need to Hang Out, a memoir of his personal journey to find new friends as a middle-aged man, said he realized he needed to build beyond the lifelong friendships he made in high school or college.

“Baker said he didn’t have very many people he could call in the middle of the night if there was an emergency. To remedy this, he started a fraternity for neighborhood dads to meet every Wednesday night, and the group now gets together on other days and on the weekends.

“Baker said he’s spent years ‘checking off so many other boxes,’ to be a good father and husband, but he’s never had ‘hanging out with my buddies’ on the list.

“ ‘We all know how to do this,’ he said. ‘What very often happens in those moments is you feel that spark with someone and you say: “Hey, we should grab a beer some time!” But, how often do you go grab that beer?’ ”

As Suzanne and her fellow Girl Scouts used to sing,

“Make new friends
“But keep the old.
“One is silver
“And the other gold.”

More at the Post, here.

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Like many Swedes, Erik is fluent in several languages and understands others. It’s a riot to hear him “conversing” with Svein. Svein says something in Norwegian. Erik answers in Swedish.

Language skill has come in handy for both Erik and Suzanne recently, as they are able to converse with the Honduran worker who is painting their new residence. Not only will the paint job be better, but Erik thinks he may have found a new group with whom to play pick-up soccer.

Beyond such practical matters, speaking other languages can improve brain capability and even keep Alzheimer’s patients functioning longer, as Jessica Marshall writes at Discovery News. The longer you speak two languages, the better.

“Being able to use two languages and never knowing which one you’re going to use right now rewires your brain. The attentional executive system which is crucial for all higher thought — it’s the most important cognitive piece in how we think — that system seems to be enhanced.” Read more.

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