Speaking another language, even partially, could help avoid dementia for up to seven years, the researchers suggest. Scientists believe that speaking a foreign language exercises the brain and provides the mental stimulation needed to prevent cognitive decline. Unlike other factors that are thought to protect against memory theft condition, such as exercise or a specific diet, language “stays with us all the time,” they explained.
An analysis of existing studies found that bilingual people are diagnosed with dementia an average of five to seven years later than people who speak a single language. Another study that looked at cognitive experiments showed that the longer and more fluent someone is in a second language, the better the protection.
Federico Gallo, from the Higher School of Economics (HSE) at the National Research University in Russia, said the findings suggest that bilingualism could be one of the strongest ways to protect against dementia. “We can resume and give up physical exercise, go on one diet or another, or change jobs, but language stays with us all the time. We communicate, watch movies and read books, and language centers are constantly working on our minds,” he said.
Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK, with 900,000 Britons affected by memory theft condition. Nearly 5 million people in the United States also live with the disorder, which academics have spent decades and millions of pounds trying to eradicate. Dementia is a general term used to describe a variety of progressive neurological disorders that affect memory, thinking, and behavior.
In one study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, scientists had 63 people over 60 who spoke at least two languages with different fluency take a cognitive test. In the research, conducted by HSE Moscow University and Northumbria University, participants were asked to perform an “Eriksen flanking task” to assess their cognitive abilities.
This test measures people's ability to identify the direction of an arrow in the center of a line from other arrows and shapes, and is designed to assess people's reaction time and their ability to decipher patterns quickly. As people age, these cognitive abilities usually deteriorate. Participants were also asked to complete a questionnaire as part of the study, which included questions about how long they had spoken a second language and their level of proficiency.
People who had spoken a second language longer and considered themselves more fluent, performed better, suggested the results. In addition, it was observed that proficiency in a second language plays a greater role in better test performance than the time known, according to the authors.
Gallo also authored a review of data on bilingualism and cognitive impairment published in the sister journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. In this research, they pointed to three recent meta-analyses that showed that bilingualism is related to a later onset of dementia diagnosis, between five and seven years. For the expert, “considering that there is currently no cure for dementia and aging of the brain in general, it is vitally important to find ways to delay its onset.”
“There are no really effective drugs available today to prevent or slow the aging of the brain. Enormous financial resources are needed to develop pharmaceutical treatments. Therefore, finding and investigating alternative, non-pharmacological ways to slow cognitive aging should become a priority in science,” he concluded, assuring that in the future he wants to examine whether language pairs specific to bilingualism are more effective than others in curbing the decline. cognitive.
The researchers were also interested in highlighting that being bilingual is not a sure way to avoid or delay conditions such as dementia itself, with several other factors at play, such as family history or other lifestyle factors. The idea that being able to speak at least two languages can prevent dementia has been widely raised in recent years. Experts believe that keeping the brain active, when changing languages, can provide a form of “cognitive reserve”.