Bilingualism May Delay Onset of Alzheimer's Disease

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Having the ability to speak more than one language could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Wouter Duyck, PhD, of the University of Ghent in Belgium, and colleagues examined case histories of 134 people undergoing treatment for suspected Alzheimer’s. Sixty-nine were monolingual and 65 were bilingual.

The average age for diagnosis of those who spoke just one language was 73, while those who spoke two or more language weren’t diagnosed until they reached an average of 77 years old.

“These findings confirm previous research suggesting that bilingualism can slow down cognitive aging and contribute to cognitive reserve,” the researchers said in a statement. “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.”

Previous studies using MRI imaging have indicated that the brains of bilingual people have higher densities of both gray and white matter. And learning another language helps to improve “cognitive reserve” and “neural efficiency,” according to the researchers.

Bilingualism May Delay Onset of Alzheimer's Disease
Bilingualism May Delay Onset of Alzheimer's Disease

Learning and speaking more than one language could delay the onset of dementia by as many as four or five years. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Ghent found that the average age of diagnosis for Alzheimer's patients who only speak one language was 73. For bilinguals, the age was 77. For some, multilingualism delayed onset by five years.

Between March 2013 and May 2014, researchers at the Belgian university studied the case history of 69 monolingual patients and 65 bilingual patients, all of which were undergoing treatment for probable Alzheimer's disease. The analysis revealed that both manifestation and diagnosis of the neurodegenerative disease occurred four to five years later for Belgians who spoke more than one language

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