York University: Bilingualism Combats Onset of Alzheimer’s

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Several Canadian researchers have discovered that bilingualism presents potential delaying effects to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, possibly for a period of up to five years.

The team, which includes York University professor Ellen Bialystok, has had a study published in the Neurology Journal that indicates prolonged bilingualism can actually minimize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and several other forms of dementia.

The study, led by the Rotman Research Institue, looked at clinical data from 200 patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. These patients come from the Sam and Ida Ross Memory Clinic at the Baycrest Research Center for Aging and the Brain in Toronto.

Professor Bialystok, a Rotman Research Institute associate scientist and the study’s co-author, admitted that it is clear that bilingualism does not actually prevent dementia in Alzheimer’s patients.  It does, however, develop cognitive reserves that enable patients to resist showing symptoms of the disease for years, which helps them cope during that time with their day to day activities.

Despite the patients’ brains showing signs of deterioration, bilingualism helped them develop skills that allowed them to compensate and suppress memory loss and confusion.

Fellow team members, senior scientist Fergus Craik and University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine neurology professor Dr. Morris Freedman, say that bilingual patients were diagnosed up to 4.3 years later than the non-bilingual subjects, with symptoms showing 5 years later.

In this study, patients were grouped according to their cognitive and occupational levels. Their gender and immigration status showed little bearing on the onset of Alzheimer’s.

The research reflects findings from another one of their trials conducted in 2007 that was led by Bialystok and published in the Neuropsychologia Journal. That study found that bilingualism delayed the manifestation of dementia symptoms in patients by up to four years.

Based on their findings, Bialystok recommends bilingualism be seen as crucial component to good health and given equal priority with exercise, proper diet and lifestyle.


Photo source: Wikipedia

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