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Bilingualism Linked To Better Cognitive Recovery Following Stroke

First Posted: Nov 20, 2015 06:11 PM EST

Bilingual patients are twice as likely to recover with normal cognitive function following a stroke than those who only speak one language, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) in Hyderabad, India found that 40 percent of bilingual patients in the study showed normal cognitive function following stroke when compared to just 20 percent of single language patients.

"The advantage of bilingualism is that it makes people switch from one language to another, so while they inhibit one language, they have to activate another to communicate," said Suvarna Alladi, D.M., lead author and a neurology professor at NIMS, in a news release.

During the study, researchers reviewed the records of 608 patients in the NIMS stroke registry in 2006-13. More than half the patients were bilingual, defined in the study as speaking two or more languages. To ensure results weren't due to bilinguals having a healthier lifestyle, researchers took into account other factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and age.

While the findings showed higher cognitive recovery rates in bilingual patients than single language patients, researchers found no difference between those regarding the likelihood of experiencing aphasia--a disorder that can cause difficulties with communication following the incident.

Researchers also noted that the study results may not be universally applicable to all bilingual people. For instance, Hyderabad--a multicultural city in which many languages are commonly spoken, including Telugu, Urdu, Hindi and English, have residents constantly switching lanaguages among each other. 

"The cognitive benefit may not be seen in places where the need to function in two or more languages isn't as extensive," Alladi said. 

The study is published in the journal Stroke

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