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Bilingualism May Delay Alzheimer's by More than 4 Years

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerDecember 11, 2014

A recent study provided more evidence to the claim that people who speak more than one language may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Learn more about this study and the connection between language and the delay of neurodegeneration. 

The Protective Effects of Bilingualism

Researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium recently published a study that added to the growing evidence that bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

For over one year researchers studied 134 people who were all undergoing treatment for probable Alzheimer’s. According to the study, 65 of the participants were bilingual or multilingual and the rest were monolingual. The final analysis from the researchers showed that both the manifestation and the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s occurred at least four years later for the bilingual or multilingual participants. The average age of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for monolingual participants was 73 years but for those who were bilingual, it was 77 years.

In their self-published study, researchers said, “These findings confirm previous research suggesting that bilingualism can slow down cognitive aging and contribute to cognitive reserve.” They continued:

“It seems that constantly and actively controlling two languages is like a workout for the brain. It challenges our grey cells and keeps them from degenerating.”

Confirming Previous Findings

This is the latest study to support the idea that bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. In November 2013, a study was done that concluded participants who spoke a second language were able to delay Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia by four years.

More studies need to be done to know exactly why this happens, though some researchers suggest that switching between two languages requires a specific area of the brain that, when exercised, can delay dementia.

Suvarna Alladi, DM, of Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India authored one study and said: “Speaking more than one language is thought to lead to better development of the areas of the brain that handle executive functions and attention tasks, which may help protect from the onset of dementia.”

Does this study encourage you to want to learn a second language? Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s who is bilingual who reverts to their native tongue at times? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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