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Canadian study shows bilingualism has protective effect in delaying onset of dementia by four years

Canadian scientists have found astonishing evidence that the lifelong use of two languages can help delay the onset of dementia symptoms by four years compared to people who are monolingual.

There has been much interest and growing scientific literature examining how lifestyle factors such as physical activity, education and social engagement may help build "cognitive reserve" in later years of life. Cognitive reserve refers to enhanced neural plasticity, compensatory use of alternative brain regions, and enriched brain vasculature, all of which are thought to provide a general protective function against the onset of dementia symptoms.

Now scientists with the Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Research Centre for Aging and the Brain have found the first evidence that another lifestyle factor, bilingualism, may help delay dementia symptoms. The study is published in the February 2007 issue of Neuropsychologia (Vol.45, No.2).

"We are pretty dazzled by the results," says principal investigator Ellen Bialystok, Ph.D., whose research team at Baycrest included psychologist Dr. Fergus Craik, a world authority on age-related changes in memory processes, and neurologist Dr. Morris Freedman, an eminent authority on understanding the mechanisms underlying cognitive impairment due to diseases such as Alzheimer's.

"Our study found that speaking two languages throughout one's life appears to be associated with a delay in the onset of symptoms of dementia by four years compared to those who speak one language," says Dr. Bialystok, Professor of Psychology at York University and Associate Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest.

The study follows on the heels of previous published reports by Dr. Bialystok and colleagues showing that bilingualism enhances attention and cognitive control in both children and older adults. Those results inspired Bialystok and her research team to ask, "So what does this mean for the
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Source:Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care


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