Monday, May 18, 2015

Socialization and Brain Health

The Importance of Socialization to the Brain

            We have known for many years about the importance of friendship, loving relationships, family, marriage, and being connected human to human for our overall health and wellness. More recent research has related the importance of ongoing socialization to the brain and brain health.

            Our brains do quite well when we are integrated with others, involved in a community of people, and living with a sense of contribution, role and purpose. Our “will to live” is often a byproduct of the energy and spirit we give and take from others. Our “failure to thrive” is quite different and can result from a withdrawal and isolation from others and from personal meaning.

            Why is socialization so important to the brain? In my own work on brain health, I have discussed the need for “novel and complex” stimulation to promote the necessary neurophysiological changes (at the cellular level) that serve as the foundation for brain health. The cells in our brains rejoice with novelty and complexity, with new learning, and this is what occurs when we engage with others. We share stories, debate issues, problem solve, emote, create, and work on communication, not a bad workout for the brain!

            In our own lives we may have experiences when one of our loved ones is withdrawing or slowing isolating from others. You may know someone who no longer attends his or her typical activities or has lost interest in those programs or events that once were a source of pleasure and joy. When our bodies isolate and withdrawal so do our brains. This can lead to a lack of novelty and complexity, a lack of social interaction, and an unhealthy reliance on the “rote and passive.” Ultimately, a brain that isolates and segregates has the risk of developing dementia, a condition of the brain quite opposite of brain health.

It is important for us to reach out to those we love and encourage them to remain integrated, to continue contributing in personally meaningful ways, to maintain a social network for ongoing discourse, and to always engage in the Novel and Complex. Stay away from physical and emotional isolation and your brain cells will always rejoice!