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Bilingualism and the Brain

Posted by on Jan. 10, 2013 at 6:30 PM
  • 13 Replies

Speaking More Than One Language Could Prevent Alzheimer's

Scientists have found that bilingual seniors are better at skills that can fade with age than their monolingual peers.

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Not so long ago bilingualism was thought to be bad for your brain. But it looks more and more like speaking more than one language could help save you from Alzheimer's disease.

The latest evidence from the bilingualism-is-good-for-you crew comes from Brian Gold, a neuroscientist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington. To test the idea, he had older people who grew up bilingual do an attention-switching task, a skill that typically fades with age. Earlier research has found that people bilingual since childhood are better at the high-order thinking called executive function as they age.

Gold found that his bilingual seniors were better at the task, which had them quickly sorting colors and shapes, than their monolingual peers. He then added an extra dimension by sticking the people's heads in scanners to see what was happening inside their brains. The brains of the monolingual seniors were working harder to complete the task, while the bilingual seniors' brains were much more efficient, more like those of young adults.

Neuroscientists think that having more reserve brain power helps compensate for age-related declines in thinking and memory, and may help protect against the losses caused by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

About 20 percent of Americans are bilingual and as many as 60 percent of people in cities like New York grew up speaking two languages

Gold might not be an entirely unbiased observer: He became a fluent bilingual as a child, thanks to the French immersion school he attended in Montreal. He's old enough to remember when speaking two languages was considered a handicap. He recalls a cousin ragging him: "He said, 'You're not going to learn to speak English properly'. Not only is that not true, but bilingualism gives you benefits in what we call executive control."

Gold seldom speaks French now, though he has learned Spanish to talk with his Mexican-born wife and her relatives. His next task is to see if learning a second language in adulthood would give some protective benefit to those of us who missed the chance to be bilingual as children. That, he says, "would be more useful to people."

by on Jan. 10, 2013 at 6:30 PM
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Replies (1-10):
jehosoba84
by Jenn on Jan. 10, 2013 at 6:35 PM

 This doesn't surprise me at all. What does surprise me is that people used to think speaking 2 languages was bad. I've never heard of that notion.

ethans_momma06
by on Jan. 10, 2013 at 6:38 PM
1 mom liked this

I don't know why, but those buttons look like breasts to me....

polyhymia
by Member on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:21 PM

Makes sense. I need to go back through my old high school textbook and try to remember mandarin again, thanks for the incentive! :)

canadianmom1974
by Gold Member on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:22 PM
Who ever seriously thought bi or poly-ligualism was bad for you/your brain?

At any rate, it's yet another reason in very happy with our choice to send our kids to a French immersion school.
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caito
by Silver Member on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:23 PM

Interesting. We'll see how that goes with my husband and his bilingual siblings and cousins.

stacymomof2
by Ruby Member on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:28 PM

That's cool!  We are teaching our girls to be fluent in two languages, (English and Arabic) and my older one takes Spanish after school.  :)  Hubs is bi-lingual.

futureshock
by Ruby Member on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Interesting!

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:48 PM

That would suggest to me that it is extremely rare in Europeans, who typically speak 3-5 different languages...

True? I wonder...

turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:48 PM

 Most of my family is bilingual....and I have to disagree.  The Alzheimer's trait has unfortunately been a part of my elderly aunts and grandmother.  I'd have to say genetics may have a big part.

Ive also seen it a lot in the Greek and Italian community too.

Most bi linguist I know can speak in another language but think in the language they are surrounded by.  A busy brain lessens the effect of Alzheimers...or so Ive been lead to believe.  So keeping the brain active is a logical reason for why it would appear that bilingualist are less likely to suffer from alzheimers...but not concrete.  JMO

turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:50 PM

 

Quoting LindaClement:

That would suggest to me that it is extremely rare in Europeans, who typically speak 3-5 different languages...

True? I wonder...

 Its not where I come from and most of the ageing indigenous generation has some sort of Alzheimers or Dementia and they are all bilingual.

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