¿Qué Pasa? Being Bilingual Appears to Slow Alzheimer’s
Do you speak more than one language? Can you converse in French while texting in English? Do you switch from Spanish to English ‘con facilidad’? Well, I have some good news (¡buenas noticias!; bonne nouvelle!) for you!
Being bilingual appears to offer some protection against the development of the mind-robbing disease, Alzheimer’s. That’s according to a recent study conducted in Belgium, where three official languages (Dutch, French and German) are spoken in one relatively small country. In Belgium, people who speak just one language experienced the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, on average, at 71.5 years of age. But people who were fluent in two languages did not show symptoms of the disease until 76.1 years of age.
That’s a significant difference, and it supports what’s been reported previously. After controlling for other possible confounding factors, such as education level, profession, or socioeconomic status, the protective effect of bilingualism held up. Scientists believe that bilingualism preserves “cognitive reserve” and slows cognitive aging and decline. In essence, it’s as if the constant challenge of switching back and forth among different languages serves as a sort of mental exercise that helps keep brain cells and brain pathways healthy.
As a bilingual/multilingual person myself, I certainly find this to be encouraging news. I’d suggest that those of you who have never studies as foreign language consider doing so. You might also want to support the study of foreign languages in our schools. Learning a second language provides numerous benefits, including greater cross-cultural empathy and understanding. Even if you only learn enough to facilitate a brief trip abroad, the benefits of bilingualism go beyond feeling more comfortable on that trip to Paris. It could actually help you remember the trip, for many years to come. Bon voyage, indeed!
Woumans, E., Santens, P., Sieben, A., Versijpt, J., Stevens, M., & Duyck, W. Bilingualism delays clinical manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, December 2014