Joel Salinas, MD, is a behavioral neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, and social epidemiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Brain Health. To learn more about his research, please visit his lab website.
When we make social connections with other people, we live better and have healthier brains for longer.
This might mean re-connecting with old friends, making new friends, joining a group or a class, teaching someone something new, volunteering or offering to help others, or using technology to keep in touch, getting a pet, or simply sharing a smile.
Studying over 3,000 members of the Framingham, MA, community since 1948, and across multiple generations, we found that people who are the most socially isolated have lower blood levels of a molecule known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF) which is critical for keeping brain cells healthy and forming new connections between cells.
However, people who have someone available to listen to them or receive emotional support from someone else most or all of the time not only seem to have increased levels of BDNF, but they also have a lower risk of developing stroke and dementia.
There is no cure yet for many age-related brain diseases, but there is a cure for social isolation.
By addressing what we can change in our life to reduce our risk for brain disease, there may be a way to delay and eventually prevent these diseases and prolong the span of our brain health.
Research Your Resolution
Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more. See more posts in the series.
Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.