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Learning a Second Language Helps Cognitive Health

Posted by European Schoolbooks Ltd, on 14 January 2019. Comments: 0

Several recent reports have concluded that being multilingual helps to prevent cognitive decline.


In 2018 a report from Concordia University in Canada examined MRI scans of 94 patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment, including monolingual and multilingual patients.

Natalie Phillips, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the university, reported: ‘Our results contribute to research that indicates that speaking more than one language is one of a number of lifestyle factors that contributes to cognitive reserve’.

Professor Phillips added: ‘Our study seems to suggest that multilingual people are able to compensate for AD-related tissue loss by accessing alternative networks or other brain regions for memory processing.’


In 2017 a report from Northern Italy found that bilinguals develop dementia symptoms an average of five years later than monolinguals, and that they are able to cope with a greater level of brain dysfunction.


Researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad studied 648 people who had been diagnosed with dementia. Their report in the journal Neurology concluded that not only Alzheimer’s but two other types of dementia developed much later in bilingual patients.

Study author Suvarna Alladi noted: '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.'

Thomas Bak, from the University of Edinburgh's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, added that 'bilingualism might have a stronger influence on dementia than any currently available drugs.'

Similarly to the report from Northern Italy, the researchers found that dementia sufferers who spoke two languages developed their symptoms on average 4˝ years later than those who were monolingual.


A report from York University in Toronto examined 450 bilingual and monolingual patients who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Again the report discovered that bilingual patients had been diagnosed on average four years later than those who spoke one language, and that their symptoms had begun to present themselves five years later.

And in later language learners?

It seems that the benefits of multilingualism extend to people who learn a second language later in life.

Says psychologist Teresa Bajo at the University of Granada: 'The evidence that we have is not only with very early bilinguals. Even late bilinguals use these very same processes so they may have also the very same advantages.'


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