Knowing second language may delay onset of Alzheimer's

Mar 10, 2011

Bilingiual adults are able to stave off the onset of Alzhieimer's Disease longer than those who only speak one language.

Speaking more than one language may have more health benefits than previously imagined, as Canadian researchers discovered that bilingual adults are able to stave off the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease longer than those who only speak one tongue.

In a study of 450 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's, half of whom were bilingual, scientists from York University found that those who spoke more than one language were diagnosed with the ailment about four years later. Researchers also said that while all the patients had similar levels of cognitive impairment, the bilingual adults reported their symptoms began about five years later.

Ellen Bialystock, a psychologist at York University, told CBS News that while CT scans of the bilingual patients showed more advanced brain deterioration, it wasn't apparent from their behavior or ability to function.

"Once the disease begins to compromise this region of the brain, bilinguals can continue to function," Bialystok said. "Bilingualism is protecting older adults, even after Alzheimer's disease is beginning to affect cognitive function."

Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Those who work their brain by speaking multiple languages can delay the onset of the disease, which may extend life expectancy in addition to cognitive function, possibly leading to better life insurance rates.

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