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¿Habla Español? How bilingualism may delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms

Despite taking Spanish classes in high school and college, I never became fluent in the language. These days my Spanish is pretty much limited to ordering in a restaurant and navigating airports. But recent research showing bilingualism may delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms has me thinking it might be a good idea to give learning Spanish a second try.

In the study (subscription required), researchers analyzed CT scans of patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease who had similar levels of education and cognitive skills, such as attention, memory and planning. Half were fluently bilingual and the remaining subjects were unilingual. According to Science Daily, researchers found:

Despite the fact that both groups performed equivalently on all measures of cognitive performance, the scans of the bilingual patients showed twice as much atrophy in areas of the brain known to be affected by Alzheimer's.


[Lead study author Tom Schweizer], PhD, said that because bilingual people constantly switch from one language to another or suppress one language to speak in the other, their brains may be better prepared to compensate through enhanced brain networks or pathways when Alzheimer's sets in.

The findings add to the growing scientific evidence suggesting that speaking two or more languages may have a protective effect against cognitive decline as we age.

Previously: Stanford biostatistician talks about saving your aging brain, Researchers working to improve Alzheimer's detection and The long good-bye: Stanford expert discusses Alzheimer's in new podcast
Photo by Enokson

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