Language Fluency Yields Mind Fluidity
Now there's another reason to extend beyond your native tongue. Canadian scientists have found astonishing evidence that the lifelong use of two languages can help delay the onset of dementia symptoms by four years when compared to people who speak one language. The study by researchers at the Rotman Research Institute is published in Neuropsychologia (Vol.45, No.2).
"We are pretty dazzled by the results," says principal investigator Ellen Bialystok, Ph.D., whose research team at Baycrest included psychologist Dr. Fergus Craik, a world authority on age-related changes in memory processes, and neurologist Dr. Morris Freedman, an eminent authority on understanding the mechanisms underlying cognitive impairment due to diseases such as Alzheimer's.
The scientists determined that the mean age of onset of dementia symptoms in the monolingual group of subjects was 71.4 years, while the bilingual group was 75.5 years. This difference remained even after considering the possible effect of cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and even gender as influencers in the results.
Better than a Prescription
"There are no pharmacological interventions that are this dramatic," says Dr. Freedman, who is Head of the Division of Neurology, and Director of the Memory Clinic at Baycrest, referring to the four-year delay in onset of symptoms for bilingual patients.
"The data show a huge protective effect," adds co-investigator Dr. Craik, who cautioned that this is still a preliminary finding, but is in line with a number of other recent findings about lifestyle effects on dementia.