Bilingual resistance to dementia

10 Nov

A study published in the journal Neurology strengthens the case that bilingualism is associated with resistance to dementia. Here is the abstract:

Objectives: The purpose of the study was to determine the association between bilingualism and age at onset of dementia and its subtypes, taking into account potential confounding factors.

Methods: Case records of 648 patients with dementia (391 of them bilingual) diagnosed in a specialist clinic were reviewed. The age at onset of first symptoms was compared between monolingual and bilingual groups. The influence of number of languages spoken, education, occupation, and other potentially interacting variables was examined.

Results: Overall, bilingual patients developed dementia 4.5 years later than the monolingual ones. A significant difference in age at onset was found across Alzheimer disease dementia as well as frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia, and was also observed in illiterate patients. There was no additional benefit to speaking more than 2 languages. The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors such as education, sex, occupation, and urban vs rural dwelling of subjects.

Conclusions: This is the largest study so far documenting a delayed onset of dementia in bilingual patients and the first one to show it separately in different dementia subtypes. It is the first study reporting a bilingual advantage in those who are illiterate, suggesting that education is not a sufficient explanation for the observed difference. The findings are interpreted in the context of the bilingual advantages in attention and executive functions.

Here is a good video summarizing the results and describing both the strengths and limitations of the study.

This report, and other findings, strengthen my belief that foreign language learning may be the best form cognitive engagement for adults wishing to reduce the risk of dementia.

One Response to “Bilingual resistance to dementia”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bilingual advantage for working memory | peakmemory - May 10, 2014

    […] There is evidence that bilingual individuals are more resistant to dementia. […]

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