Being Bi-Lingual Could Avert Alzheimer’s by 5 Years

November 16, 2010

There are many suggested ways to delay or even avert Alzheimer’s and they usually revolve around staying mentally active. Now new research from Canada has found more dramatic evidence that speaking two languages can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms by as much as five years.

The latest study examined the clinical records of more than 200 patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s disease and found that those who have spoken two or more languages consistently over many years experienced a delay in the onset of their symptoms by as much as five years. Dual language capability is not uncommon in Canada where many speak both English and French and the science team are not claiming that bilingualism in any way prevents Alzheimer’s or other dementias. What they are saying is that it may contribute to cognitive reserve in the brain which appears to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms for quite some time.

The lead investigator is Dr. Craik who is also co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Memory and he clarified that the brains of people who speak two languages still show deterioration from Alzheimer’s, however their special ability with two languages seems to equip them with compensatory skills to hold back the tell-tale symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulties with problem-solving and planning.

The researchers found that bilingual patients had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 4.3 years later and had reported the onset of symptoms five years later than the patients who spoke only one language. Interestingly, there was no apparent effect of immigration status, and there were no gender differences.

The current study adds to mounting scientific evidence that lifestyle factors – such as regular cardiovascular exercise, a healthy diet, and keeping mentally alert – can play a central role in how the brain copes with age-related cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“Although a great deal of research is being focused on the development of new and more effective medications for Alzheimer’s disease, there are currently no drug treatments that show any effects on delaying Alzheimer’s symptoms, let alone delaying the onset of these symptoms by up to five years,” said Dr. Freedman, head of Neurology and director of the Sam and Ida Ross Memory Clinic at Baycrest.

That being the case it might be time to dust off the Linguaphone records, or sign up for a language class at your local adult education centre. Chinese ought to be difficult enough to stir the brain cells into action!


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