What’s Language Have to Do With It?

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My husband is of Polish descent. His grandparents arrived in the US in the early 20th century and both his mother and father were first generation Americans. How he ended up with a very American name like Powers is another story.

Like many immigrant families, his parents totally embraced their American identity, seldom talking about their families left behind in Poland, and shedding their cultural heritage; with the possible exception of his mother's "blood soup" that Charlie refused to eat. However, both of his parents grew up bi-lingual, speaking the Polish language of their parents and the English that became the language of their children.

Occasionally Charlie's parents would lapse into Polish in front of the children when speaking with each other or the grandparents who spoke little English. When the children heard their parents conversing in Polish they would interrupt and tell them, "English, speak English Ma/Pa." Except for a word here and there, Charlie and his siblings never learned the language of the home country.

If Charlie were to re-think that childhood request, he might wish he had taken every opportunity to learn Polish along with his English. A recent paper published in the journal Neurology showed that bi-lingual people, in a controlled study in India, developed dementia four-and-a-half years later than people who spoke only one language. This proved true even in people who were illiterate.

I don't know how this really improves the outcome of dementia. Apparently it doesn't; it merely delays the onset by a few years.

This is just one aspect of the work that is currently ramping up in an effort to find causes and cures for various forms of cognitive impairment. They have a long ways to go, but it is comforting to know that there are researchers out there working to find the answers.

It is interesting to note that Charlie's bi-lingual father never developed dementia; his bilingual mother did show signs of cognitive impairment, but not until she was in her 90's. Charlie, however, has two brothers who have had some signs of dementia since their mid-70's.

Perhaps, had they learned the Polish language as children, they would not be having problems today. Who knows?

I would be interested in hearing from others who have encountered the phenomena in their loved one's families.

I've heard that one of the best ways to keep our minds sharp late in life is to embark on the study of a foreign language. Hmmm – wonder if I should try Russian Mandarin? Perhaps just brushing up on my high school French would serve the purpose. It's far less intimidating.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For AgingCare.com, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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1 Comments

I have heard this before, in obtaining my recent degree, I took TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) classes and the books had chapters in them about learning a second language and the brain and neurotransmitters, I believe that it is possible to stave off dementia.