BY KRISTIN A. BARYN
SC Contributing Writer
Need an excuse to learn a second language? How about three?
According to the November 2013 article “Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status,” published in the journal Neurology, speaking two or more languages can delay the onset of three types of dementia.
This includes Alzheimer’s disease, frontal temporal dementia, and vascular dementia.
Frontal temporal dementia affects areas of the brain associated with personality, behavior, and language, while vascular dementia influences reasoning, planning, judgment, and memory.
Recent studies conducted in a memory clinic in Hyderabad, India, on 648 subjects—391 of which spoke more than one language—support that bilingual patients develop dementia 4.5 years later than monolingual individuals.
Another discovery was that literacy did not play a role in the delay of dementia. In fact, when illiterate people were compared with other illiterate people, those who could speak more than one language developed dementia six years later.
Education is not necessary for second language acquisition, nor can it explain the delay. The majority of people in Hyderabad speak two or more languages, regardless of economic status and educational background.
Anyone who has attempted to learn a second language knows how it exercises the brain. Dr. Thomas Bak, co-author of the study, said, “You have to use different sounds; you have to be aware of different social norms. It stimulates a lot of different parts of the brain.”
Navigating through more than one language stimulates the brain constantly, so much that people sometimes flip back and forth in mid-sentence, which is what linguists refer to as code-switching.
Being bilingual keeps the mind in motion by activating the brain’s synapses, which play an important role in memory development and storage. Concentration and deliberate focus are required in order to retrieve access to all of the languages that a person’s brain contains.
According to the study, people do not have to be fluent in the second language, but they do need the ability to express themselves.
In the United States, access to second languages is typically provided from educational institutions.
Dementia has a number of negative side effects. Why not try to prolong dementia by learning a second language?
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