Nov, 2010 — A Canadian science team has found dramatic evidence that speaking two languages can help delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms by as much as five years.
The latest study, led by Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute, examined the clinical records of more than 200 patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers found that those who have spoken two or more languages consistently over many years experienced a delay in the onset of their symptoms by as much as five years. The study is published in the November 9th issue of the science journal 'Neurology'.
The science team includes cognitive researcher Dr. Fergus Craik of the Rotman Research Institute; Dr. Ellen Bialystok of York University, an expert in bilingualism research; and Dr. Morris Freedman, a clinician in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's and other dementias.
"We are not claiming that bilingualism prevents Alzheimer's or other dementias, but it contributes to cognitive reserve in the brain which appears to delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms for quite some time," said Dr. Craik, lead investigator and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Memory.
The brains of people who speak two languages still show deterioration from Alzheimer's; however, their ability with two languages seems to equip them with skills to hold back the tell-tale symptoms of Alzheimer's, such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulties with problem-solving and planning.
"These results are especially important for multicultural societies like ours in Canada where bilingualism is common," said Dr. Bialystok, professor of Psychology at York University and associate scientist at the Rotman Research Institute.
The Neurology paper replicates findings from the team's widely-reported 2007 study led by Dr. Bialystok and published in Neuropsychologia.
That study examined the clinical records of 184 patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia - and found that bilingual patients delayed the onset of their symptoms by four years compared to monolingual patients.
The current study adds to mounting scientific evidence that lifestyle factors - such as regular cardiovascular exercise, a healthy diet, and speaking more than one language - can play a central role in how the brain copes with age-related cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Refer to: Fergus I.M. Craik, Ellen Bialystok, Morris Freedman (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. Neurology, 75, 1726-1729.
* Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia (BM = nyanyuk). It is not a part of normal aging, but a disease involving the progressive loss of brain nerve cells.
** Since nerve cells are essential for normal thought, memory and other brain functions, people with Alzheimer's Disease suffer a decline of mental functions which eventually interferes with the patient's normal daily activities.
*** Over time, Alzheimer's Disease patients lose their ability to perform even the most basic activities of daily living like brushing one's teeth, putting on clothes, bathing, etc. In the end, the ability to walk and talk may be lost as well.
**** Known as the disease of "The Long Goodbye", the illness often stretches over 10 and even 20 years. Despite intensive research in recent years, the disease is still not yet fully understood, and there is still no known cure...