Bilingual brains may age more slowly
Doctors have long maintained the best fountain of youth for aging adults is exercise for both body and mind. Now, new research shows that speaking two languages, also offers benefits for the aging brain.
According to a new study published this week in the journal Annals of Neurology, individuals who speak two or more languages, even if the second language is learned in adulthood, may slow cognitive decline and even delay dementia.
Researchers used data from 835 native English-speakers born and living in and around Edinburgh, Scotland. Participants were given an intelligence test in 1947, when they were 11 years old, and then again in 2008 and 2010, when they’d reached their early 70s. Of these, 262 participants reported being able to speak more than one language—195 of whom learned their second language before age 18 and 65 after.
According to the findings, those who spoke a second language had significantly better cognitive abilities than expected, with the strongest areas being in general intelligence and reading.
“Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Thomas Bak of the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, in a statement. “These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”
“There’s been a lot of research into keeping the aging brain active and engaged,” he says. “It makes a lot of sense that learning and using a second language would deter mental deterioration. You need to use it or lose it.”
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