Welcome to the Dr. B Weekly Roundup, a curated weekly overview that cuts through the noise to deliver vetted reads on Covid-19 and beyond. Just one healthy relationship can reduce chronic stress + provide vital emotional support. But pandemic distancing threatened many of our longest + strongest ties. To reset the compass, here’s the latest on how to nurture relationships + what they mean for our health.
A new analysis of medical literature offers a strong argument for nurturing your social ties: Healthy relationships can support brain health + limit cognitive decline.
Scarily, our brain’s gray matter (which contains the systems neurons need to communicate) starts to decline when we’re only ten years old! But the analysis shows how healthy relationships promote neural growth and synaptic density—the things that keep our cognitive function strong. They can also nurture our orbitofrontal cortex, where our decision making happens. The authors specify theirs is but an analysis + the area needs controlled studies.
Until then, try seven exercises to strengthen romantic + platonic relationships. And keep scrolling…
A fascinating 1998 study showed that adding internet-ready computers to dining rooms reduced how much family members communicated + increased rates of depression and loneliness. Decades later, the pandemic has offered fertile ground for internet-versus-relationship exploration.
The short story? Our increased use of email, social media, video chatting + texting does not adequately replace in-person interaction. This is because such communication tools lack the dimensionality—multiple features that, together, make a thing seem real—that help us notice, understand and want to invest in each other’s needs. (Instead of going deep, we click to the next thing.) Sadly, many children report feeling their parents are too distracted by their phones to listen to them. And younger generations worry that calling someone to talk “live” can be viewed as a rude intrusion.
What to do? Reevaluate friendships that changed during the pandemic, then make a plan to repair them. Discuss with those closest to you how you can prioritize face-to-face interactions, then what communication methods work best from there. Read this Atlantic article for more. And if curious about how tech could be designed to support rather than distract, check out anthropologist Amber Case’s Calm Technology.
American adults today are four times more likely to have no close friends than we were in 1990. Marisa Franco—a psychologist who studies friendships—offers hard data she hopes will ease new friend-making jitters:
Statistically, we expect more rejection than we get. When we assume a stranger likes us, we act warmer + friendlier and increase the odds that they will. And adults who proactively pursue new friendships are less lonely than those who assume they’ll happen naturally.
Here’s how Franco recommends you expand your social circle:
We’re all busy. But we need each other. Read more in The New York Times.
The power of Paxlovid (NY Times). Massive amounts of data show that Paxlovid so reduces hospitalization + death in adults over 50 that if everyone eligible took it, daily death rates would fall from 400 to 50! But that’s not happening. Why? Bad press. Paxlovid can have weird (safe) side effects. Many fear a Paxlovid rebound, which studies show is the result of a robust immune response to the virus in the respiratory tract. And usage is low in Republican-led communities that need it the most. Learn more in the article above. Read our Covid medications primer for more details. And if you need a prescription, we can help.
Will there be a COVID winter wave? What scientists say (Nature). In August, Covid-19 models suggested a mild winter season ahead. Now, projections are cloudier. Infection + immunization vaccination has waned. The bivalent booster rollout is slow. Immune-dodging variants are spawning internationally. And we’re mixing more at home + abroad. So we may see similar surges of infection as we did with last winter’s BA.5. But we don’t know what that will mean for hospitalization + deaths. Newer variants could throw projections further off again, too. Head to immunologist Katelin Jetina for more details on those currently causing trouble.
FDA releases important information about risk of COVID-19 due to certain variants not neutralized by Evusheld (FDA). Evusheld is the only pre-exposure medication available to immunocompromised people + those who have severe adverse reactions to vaccinations. Evusheld showed 83% efficacy against earlier variants + has held up to BA.5. which is still the most circulating variant in the U.S. But it does not protect against variant BA.4.6—almost 13% of infections right now + growing in (especially) rural areas. More variants circulate worldwide, too. Keep on top of the updates at the Immune Deficiency Foundation.