AsianScientist (Nov. 18, 2013) – People who speak more than one language and develop dementia tend to do so up to five years later than those who are monolingual, according to a study.
A team of scientists examined almost 650 dementia patients and assessed each one when they had been diagnosed with the condition. The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, UK and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India.
They found that people who spoke two or more languages experienced a later onset of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia.
The bilingual advantage extended to illiterate people who had not attended school. This confirms that the observed effect is not caused by differences in formal education.
It is the largest study so far to gauge the impact of bilingualism on the onset of dementia – independent of a person’s education, gender, occupation and whether they live in a city or in the country, all of which have been examined as potential factors influencing the onset of dementia.
The team of researchers said further studies are needed to determine the mechanism that causes the delay in the onset of dementia. The researchers suggest that bilingual switching between different sounds, words, concepts, grammatical structures and social norms constitutes a form of natural brain training, and is likely to be more effective than any artificial brain training program.
However, studies of bilingualism are complicated by the fact that bilingual populations are often ethnically and culturally different from monolingual societies. India offers in this respect a unique opportunity for research. In places like Hyderabad, bilingualism is part of everyday life: knowledge of several languages is the norm and monolingualism an exception.
“These findings suggest that bilingualism might have a stronger influence on dementia that any currently available drugs. This makes the study of the relationship between bilingualism and cognition one of our highest priorities,” said Thomas Bak of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy.
The article can be found at: Alladi S et al. (2013) Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status.
Source: NIMS; Photo: milena mihaylova/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.