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Greater Language Skills in 20s May Guard Against Alzheimer's
Date:7/8/2009

Small study found women who wrote more articulate essays were protected from symptoms

WEDNESDAY, July 8 (HealthDay News) -- Women with greater language abilities in early adulthood were less likely to have Alzheimer's disease later in life, even when autopsies revealed the clear brain changes that are hallmarks of the disease.

Also, the brains of women without symptoms of Alzheimer's housed bigger neurons, according to a study appearing in the July 9 online edition of Neurology.

"We noticed that the neurons in this group of people are larger and we also know that the same group of people we call asymptomatic also had higher language skills during their 20s," said study author Dr. Diego Iacono, a research fellow in neuropathology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

It's possible that the larger neurons compensated for the brain plaques and tangles that are usually indicative of Alzheimer's, the authors stated.

The findings could also mean that language abilities in the early 20s can predict the risk of developing dementia several decades later.

A previous study, this one in men, also found larger neurons in individuals who had plaques and tangles but no clinical evidence of Alzheimer's.

For the current study, researchers examined the brains of 38 deceased Catholic nuns, part of the ongoing Nun Study.

Women were divided into two groups: those with symptoms of memory loss along with plaques and tangles and those with no memory loss whether or not they had plaques or tangles.

Essays written by the women when they first entered the convent in their late teens or early 20s were analyzed for richness of language skills, including how many ideas were expressed per 10 words, number of verbs and adjectives in one sentence and more.

Women without memory problems scored 20 percent higher on language tests (though not grammar tests) than did women with
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