Monday, 20 May 2013

Being bilingual can delay onset of Alzheimer

Bilingual infants show language advantages over the monolingual
In a report titled 'Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain' by the Department of Psychology at York University of Toronto, headed by Ellen Bialystok and published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, it was found that bilingual patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease presented symptoms up to five years later than those who had spoken only one language over the same period. The symptoms that were impacted most were those that dealt with mental functions such as loss of memory, confusion and difficulty in resolving problems or planning.>>>
While the study is careful to point out that being bilingual cannot be said to entirely avoid the onset of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, it certainly appears to delay the presentation of such symptoms for several years.

Apparently, managing two or more languages simultaneously forces the brain's executive control to concentrate more than when using a single language because more concentration is needed to avoid conflict between them. This in turn leads to the executive control system (about which very little is known) acquiring considerably more practice in doing so.

There is no known medication that has managed to delay these symptoms for nearly as long, but the study concludes that bilingual people have a higher reserve of cognitive faculties as they grow older. It also concludes that while bilingualism cannot be said to have much effect on the cognitive reserve in childhood or adolescence, that reserve increases as patients grow older.

The York study confirms a previous one by the Rotman Research Institute of Toronto, that reported that a study of 211 people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease concluded that those who had spoken two or more languages for a number of years (102 patients) were likely to delay the onset of senile dementia, including Alzheimer's, for up to five years.

Another study on two-year-old children, also carried out in Canada by a team of French and Canadian scientists and published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, reveals bilingual kids at that age have significant cognitive benefits 'much sooner than previous studies have shown'.

In this study, a group of 63 children had their comprehension levels tested to find out if there were any differences between those who were beginning to speak both English and French, and those who were not. The study showed that the bilingual ones had already acquired significant vocabulary advantages compared to the others, and presented considerable skill in changing from one language to the other.

It was observed, too, that bilingual infants were less prone to distraction, which, according to this report, could be due to the fact that they are more used to concentrating on listening and using two or more languages at the same time.

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