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Speaking a Second Language Might Delay Dementia

Many people can speak a second language fluently but someone may be able to just use one language proficiently. One might ask, why do I bother learning a second language if I will not need to communicate with people from other countries throughout my whole life? While, let’s forget about this question temporarily. A new study suggests that speaking a second language might delay dementia.

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Dementia mainly includes Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia.

This research was carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad (India). The researchers examined around 650 dementia patients and assessed when each one had been diagnosed with the condition. It was found that people who speak two or more languages and who develop dementia tend to do so up to five years later than those who are monolingual.

648 patients from India took part in this study and their average age is 66. Among the subjects, 391 people mastered two or more languages. 240 of the patients had Alzheimer’s disease, 189 of them had vascular dementia, 116 of them suffered frontotemporal dementia and the rest of them had Lewy body dementia (LBD) or mixed dementia. About 14% of the subjects were incapable of literacy.

The author of this study, Suvarna Alladi, a researcher at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, noted that this research included illiterate people who had not attended school and thus, this confirmed that the observed effect was not caused by differences in formal education. He believes that a possible reason for the finding is that using more than one language could better develop brain areas related to language executing tasks, and hence delay the occurrence of dementia.

The researchers say further studies are needed to determine the mechanism, which causes the delay in the onset of dementia. They recommend that bilingual switching between different words, sounds, concepts, grammatical structures as well as social norms constitutes a form of natural brain training, likely to be much more effective than any other artificial brain training programs.

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Switching between different languages may provide better brain training.

However, this research needs to address a potential issue: normally, bilingual populations are usually different from monolingual societies both ethnically and culturally and such variant might impact the results. In places such as Hyderabad, bilingualism is one part of everyday life—it is the norm to have knowledge of several languages and monolingualism is an exception.

The collaborator of the study, Thomas Bak, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences proposed an analogy between language study and swimming. He pointed out that swimming stands out from several beneficial sports because it can provide balanced and comprehensive exercise for our body and is less likely to hurt people. Language study is similar to the above scenario that when switching between languages, the brain has to face the differences between various languages and make choices according to grammars and social norms. In this way, more brain area get trained in the same time.

Source:EurekAlert!

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