Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Figures show that more than 5 million Americans are living with this disease and it is estimated the number will rise to 16 million by 2050.
Shockingly, every 66 seconds someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s. The underlying cause of the disease is unknown which is why there is no cure that would eliminate it.
Although there is no specific prevention strategy, there are many things one can do to protect the brain and thus minimize the risk of this severe condition. Being bilingual is one of them, the latest study found.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Bilingualism
Speaking more than one language strengthens cognitive abilities and boosts brain power, decades of research confirmed. A team of scientists at the Concordia University led by Professor Natalie Phillips carried out a study to investigate just how powerful bilingualism is for our brain function.
The primary focus of the research was to analyze the effects of bilingualism on patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease.
For the research purposes, scientists enrolled:
- 34 monolingual MCI patients
- 34 multilingual MCI patients
- 13 monolingual Alzheimer’s patients
- 13 multilingual Alzheimer’s patients
They looked at MRIs of the patients. In fact, this is the very first study to use high-resolution, whole-brain MRI data together with sophisticated analysis techniques for the purpose of measuring tissue density and cortical thickness in the brain.
The brain areas of interest were those responsible for language and cognition control located in the frontal region. They also evaluated medial temporal lobe structures which play a role in memory and is subjected to atrophy in patients with Alzheimer’s and MCI.
Findings, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, revealed that multilingual MCI and Alzheimer’s disease patients have thicker cortex compared to monolingual subjects.
In addition, multilingual Alzheimer’s patients exhibit a cognitive reserve in medial temporal areas. Results also demonstrated that memory is positively linked to cortical thickness only in participants who speak more than one language.
Importance of the Study
For many years scientists have explored the power of speaking multiple languages and the latest study only confirmed that learning a new language can only be a good thing for you.
Professor Phillips explained the research contributes to the hypothesis that bilingualism exercises specific brain regions and it has potential to increase cortical thickness and density of grey matter.
Basically, the study confirmed that bilingualism is associated with structural changes in the brain that monolingual patients don’t have. These changes could protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease, which is a significant finding.
In fact, the study shows that learning a new language is an important lifestyle factor for boosting brain power to potentially reduce Alzheimer’s risk.
Philips and her team are going to continue working on this subject. Now, they plan to test the hypothesis that bilingual people compensate Alzheimer’s-related loss of tissue by using other brain regions and alternative networks to process memory.
Bilingualism is important for kids too
The power of bilingualism is well-documented. We recently reported the major discovery wherein scientists found that speaking more than one languages is beneficial for children with autism. The study showed that bilingual autistic children have better cognitive flexibility and they can switch from one task to another more easily than monolingual children.
The most recent study found that bilingualism is associated with better grey matter density and thicker tissues in different brain areas which could protect the brain from Alzheimer’s. Unlike bilingual, monolingual participants didn’t experience these changes.