Bilingualism: Could Speaking Two or More Languages Slow Cognitive Decline?

First Posted: Nov 07, 2013 12:26 PM EST

Staying mentally active into old age can be an essential part of keeping dementia at bay. Yet a recent study shows that speaking a second language may also help slow cognitive decline.

"Our study is the first to report an advantage of speaking two languages in people who are unable to read, suggesting that a person's level of education is not a sufficient explanation for this difference," study author Suvarna Alladi, DM, with Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India said, via a press release. "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."

Researchers looked at 648 participants with an average age of 66 who had been diagnosed with a form of dementia. Of all participants, 391 spoke two or more languages and 14 percent of all participants were illiterate.

Study results showed that 240 had Alzheimer's disease, 189 had vascular dementia, 116 had frontotemporal dementia and 103 had dementia with Lewy bodies with mixed dementia.

Findings also showed that bilingual participants had a later onset of Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia when people spoke in only one language. This effect was even seen in those who could not read.

"These results offer strong evidence for the protective effect of bilingualism against dementia in a population very different from those studied so far in terms of its ethnicity, culture and patterns of language use," Alladi said.

Do you speak more than one language?

More information regarding the study can be found via the journal Neurology.  

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