Health researchers at St. Michaels Hospital in Canada have determined that being multilingual can ward off symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
A team of researchers studied CT scans of patients who had been diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s disease and who had similar levels of education and cognitive skills, such as attention, memory, planning and organization. Half were fluently bilingual; the other half spoke only one language.
The study published in Cortex determined that though both groups performed similarly in regard to cognitive performance, the bilingual patients were doing so with higher levels of dementia-related brain damage.
Previous observational studies have found that bilingualism delays the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms by up to five years, but Dr. Tom Schweizer, a neuroscientist who headed the research, said that this is the first time that doctors have physical proof through CT scans that the brains of multilingual people combat Alzheimer’s more effectively.
“This is unheard of – no medicine comes close to delaying the onset of symptoms and now we have the evidence to prove this at the neuroanatomical level,” he said.
Schweizer said that researchers must now reproduce the results, using a larger base of patients and more sophisticated MRI equipment to better understand how to approach dementia prevention.