Bilingualism keeps dementia at bay

While most children can learn more than one language easily, it’s never too late to become bilingual. Studies have shown that even learning and constantly using a second language in later life can have its benefits.
Whilst the advantages of growing up bilingual are increasingly well documented, the effects of bilingualism on our twilight years is a relatively new discovery.
But now it appears that the bilingual experience influences the brain from infancy to old age – and this may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life.
Scientists have recently begun to show that being bilingual can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
In a study of study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals in America, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured by evaluating their proficiency in  each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be a heightened ability to monitor the environment says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. 'Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often. This requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.'

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