Bilingualism Delays Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Elderly Couple Posing in Front of a Waterfall

Studies on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have been on the rise all over the world in the last few years. Everything from music therapy to genetic factors and everything in between, we starting to learn more about what causes dementia, what can be done to reverse the effects, and perhaps most importantly, how to avoid it in the first place.

Most recently, a study was conducted in India about language and its relation to developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is not the first study done in the past few years, and it leads to the same point as others: bilingualism has been shown to delay the onset of dementia.

The Case for Bilingualism

At Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, a study was done on nearly 650 patients with various dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. The study focused on whether or not the patients spoke more than one language and when their dementia was first diagnosed.

The result was that bilingualism related to later onset dementia, as much as four or more years.

The researchers suggested bilingual switching between different sounds, words, concepts, grammatical structures and social norms constituted a form of natural brain training, which was likely to be more effective than any artificial brain training programme. (BBC UK)

The articles goes on to say that other factors are involved, mainly that bilingual cultures differ in many ways from monolingual cultures. However, the researchers on the study believe that bilingualism could have a stronger influence on dementia than any other drug currently available.

The effect was greatest for people who had to use the language every day and choose between two sets of words all the time. Nevertheless, learning a language at school and continuing to practise it was also useful, [Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto] said. “It works best for people who speak two languages every day, like immigrants moving to a new country who speak their own language at home. But every little bit helps.”

The Current State of Bilingualism

  • About 10.8% of Ontarians speak both English and French (2011 Canadian Census)
  • In Toronto, 1.8 million people speak a non-official language most often at home (The Globe and Mail)
  • 6.8 million Canadians (20.6 per cent) reported a native language other than English or French
  • English-French bilingualism across Canada has dropped from 17.7% to 17.5%, the first drop in 40 years

On top of the medical benefits, learning another language is a fun way to explore the world and other cultures, it brings people together, and it opens opportunities for more interactions. Many colleges and universities offer second language classes for lifelong learners. So get out there and challenge your brain to learn a new language!


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