Alzheimer’s disease develops slowly in bilingual folks
Alzheimer’s disease patients who are bilingual or speak at least two languages adequately may have given themselves a buffer to soften the blow or slow down the progression of the disease.
A new study of 450 Alzheimer’s disease patients sheds some light on how the brain uses language to stave off symptoms of cognitive decline.
In the study, half of the group were bilingual for the majority of their lives while the other half only spoke one language. Those who were bilingual were diagnosed four to five years later than those who were monolingual. Both groups had the same level of symptoms when they were diagnosed.
The findings showed that being bilingual does not prevent one from developing Alzheimer’s, but seems to delay the manifestation of the disease. Researchers said this reflects other studies on bilingualism among babies who demonstrated better “executive control” when they learn more than one language.
Study author Ellen Bialystok, professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, presented the study at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The study focused on patients who have been bilingual for the most part of their lives. Scientists want to know if the study of another language later in life can have the same benefit. They already know that learning another language beyond puberty can be hard for an individual.
But Bialystok said language learning at even the age of 40, 50, or even 60 can provide the mental exercise that can help the aging brain stave off symptoms of cognitive impairment as seen in Alzheimer’s disease.