Bilingualism may help protect against dementia

In a new study, researchers found that bilingualism acts as a cognitive reserve factor against dementia.

They found although sick bilinguals show greater brain atrophy, the cognitive level among bilinguals and monolinguals is the same.

The research was conducted by a team at Universitat Pompeu Fabra – Barcelona and elsewhere.

The team analyzed a hundred patients with mild cognitive impairment who are bilingual and monolingual, with an average age of 73 years.

Those people who use Catalan and Spanish alternately have been considered bilingual.

Those people who do not use it indiscriminately although they know, understand and can use Catalan occasionally have been considered monolingual (or passive bilingual).

The team explains that the alternative use of these two languages (Catalan and Spanish) in any situation is complex at the cognitive level because there are many similarities between them.

At the beginning of the study, the two groups of patients showed the same level of cognitive impairment (language, memory, etc.).

However, in the case of bilinguals, brain atrophy was greater than in the case of monolinguals.

This fact implies the need for more brain injury load to show the same symptoms.

The researchers have followed the patients for seven months, in which they have been able to observe that the group of bilinguals has had a lower loss of brain volume and has better maintained their cognitive abilities.

They consider that this explains that there is a cognitive reserve of bilingualism.

These results are especially relevant because this would be the first longitudinal evidence of this possible protective effect of bilingualism against dementia.

Although it is too early to apply the results obtained in treatments for dementia, scientists do know that there are cognitive stimulation therapies that include practical exercises in the use of different languages.

The lead author of the study is Víctor Costumero.

The study is published in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.

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