A Canadian research team has recently unearthed new evidence that adds another line onto the list of the benefits of being bilingual—it can delay the manifestation of Alzheimer's symptoms.
In a study of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's, researchers found that those people who spoke more than one language on a consistent basis were diagnosed with the disease 4 to5 years later than their monolingual counterparts.
These findings have led the researchers to attribute this delay in diagnosis for bilingual people to a delay in the onset of the traditional symptoms of Alzheimer's such as general cognitive impairment, memory loss, and disorientation.
The benefits of bilingualism
The results of this and other research studies have led experts to believe that being able to speak more than one language works something like a mental buffer against Alzheimer's. It can't halt the progression of the disease, but it can help a person handle its early stages more effectively.
People who speak multiple languages are thought to possess this enhanced coping ability because they have a stronger mental "executive control" system. The executive control system is what allows people to concentrate on a task or a goal even in the face of distractions.
Bilingual people have a better executive control system because their brains have been trained to be able to distinguish between two different languages, a process that requires years of intense concentration.
What this means for caregivers
When it comes to Alzheimer's, the benefits of being bilingual can only be realized if a person has been speaking two languages for years.
There is no real benefit to be gained from learning a new language for a person who has already been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. At that point, it will be too late to develop the necessary neuro-pathways to help mitigate the effects of the disease.
However, this and other studies like it serve to highlight the numerous health advantages of regularly exercising the brain.
If your elderly loved one has not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, encouraging them to engage in activities that are meant to stimulate and challenge their mind may help them retain their mental capacity for a little bit longer.
If your elderly loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia, a different approach should be taken as some tasks can easily cause frustration for them. In this instance it would be best to consult a doctor for appropriate activities for an elder with Alzheimer's.
For more information on Alzheimer's: