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Being Bilingual Delays Onset of Alzheimer's by Five Years

Bilingual and Alzheimer's disease

Two languages, better memory

An article yesterday in the journal Neurology finds that speaking two languages may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by up to five years.

The study looked at 200 patients who had been diagnosed with the disease — half spoke two languages and half only one. Those who had spent many years regularly speaking two languages were protected from Alzheimer’s for an average of five years longer than those speaking one language.

This isn’t the first time the effect has been seen — a similar study in 2007 showed the same correlation between bilingualism and dementia.

Here’s why speaking two languages could ward off Alzheimer’s:

Learning and using more than one language is thought to exercise a person’s “executive function.” To switch back and forth requires flexing your brain’s power for attention and focus, and the mental workout might help keep neurons “plastic” and the brain more able to compensate for memory and reasoning problems by using other regions.

Bilingualism has also been found to enhance cognitive control and attention in children.

When I run parenting groups, I get a lot of questions about language development and some moms worry about whether speaking two tongues at home is confusing for a child — is it information overload?  A child’s mind is amazingly flexible — it has the capacity to learn so much in the early years when pathways and connections are still forming and strengthening.

It’s great proof that learning a second language isn’t confusing. Bilingual parents are in a position to start early — and it’s a mental challenge that may even keep their kids’ minds sharp as they grow.

Image: flickr/akira ohgaki

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