Speaking two languages may be the best available means of holding off the onset of old-age dementia for upwards of five years, according to the resuls of a study conducted by an major Indian medical institute.
In the first study ever to have documented the brain benefits of being bilingual, the Nizam team headed by Suvarna Alladi followed 648 people in India who had all been diagnosed with some form of dementia. The subjects were an average age of 66 at the time of the study.
The study results showed that on average subjects who spoke two or more languages developed dementia about 4½ years later than monolingual subjects. There was no difference in results among the 14% of the subjects who were illiterate, suggesting that the ability to read a second language wasn’t significant to the protective effects of bilingualism.
“Speaking more than one language is thought to lead to better development of the areas of the brain that handle executive functions and attention tasks, which may help protect from the onset of dementia,” said Alladi.
Surprisingly speaking a third language offered no additional protection against dementia.
The study results are especially surprising in light of earlier findings that factors like education, gender, occupation and the type of area of residency had no significant impact on the onset of memory loss resulting from Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
“Our study is the first to report an advantage of speaking two languages in people who are unable to read,” said Alladi. “A person’s level of education is not a sufficient explanation for this difference,” she added.
The study was published Wednesday in the US journal Neurology.