Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bilingualism and the Brain

I have written and spoken many times about the concept of “brain reserve” which refers to the development of cellular connections that provide a type of synaptic density (like a jungle of connections in the brain) throughout the cortex. It is thought that brain reserve is a reflection of a healthy brain and further helps to delay onset of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

A new study indicates bilingualism is another avenue to building brain reserve and a potential delaying agent against dementia. Interestingly, language development has been a consistent and robust correlation of brain health and a protective factor.  The development of a second language early in life has typically been the focus of study, however the development of a second language, even some parts of the language, appears to be beneficial from a health perspective.

The research from Toronto, Canada found that of the 450 Alzheimer’s patients studied (all with same level of impairment), those who were bilingual were diagnosed with the disease four to five years later than those who spoke but one language. The study results were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientists believe the learning of a new language helps to develop the executive system in the frontal lobe that might help to provide a buffer against the ravages of dementia.

Within a brain health lifestyle (see www.paulnussbaum.com), mental stimulation and exposure to the novel and complex are essential. This one pillar of my brain health lifestyle helps to build reserve. Language development, including a second language fits with this approach. The study also comes on the heels of another stud that found a correlation between deafness or reduced auditory input and risk of dementia. The possible factor in that relationship is the increased risk of isolation for the person and the brain if incoming information is not processed. Isolation has been established as a consistent factor with risk of dementia.

Language and language development is a critical behavior for brain health. Consider learning some parts of a new language including sign language as part of your proactive brain health lifestyle.

Fear of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive that polled 2,100 adults found Alzheimer’s Disease to be the most feared disabling disease with 61% responding as such. 48% rated cancer the most feared while 32% said stroke, 18% heart disease and 8% diabetes. This is a finding that is consistent with other surveys of baby boomers who rate memory loss as a top concern.

We do not have a cure or even a prevention for AD, but research suggests lifestyle choices can help to promote brain health and perhaps delay onset of such neurodegenerative diseases. A proactive brain health lifestyle ® is suggested from the earliest of ages (see paulnussbaum.com). You can learn and apply behavioral change to areas of socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality as part of your overall brain health lifestyle ®.

Giving Hot Yoga a Try

Dr. Nussbaum’s brain health lifestyle ® combines physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, spirituality, and nutrition into an integrated and comprehensive approach to maximizing the health and potential of your brain. While no single slice of the five part brain health pie is more important than the other, all should be considered and implemented into your daily life.

Recently, I started hot yoga as I included it as a recommendation to my pain patients and thought I needed to understand this activity better. After four or five sessions of hot yoga I believe it to be a healthy and cleansing type activity that includes aerobics and stretching with a focus on breathing. To this end, hot yoga encompasses at least three of the five major brain health lifestyle ® components: physical activity, spirituality, and socialization.

Personally I feel very good mentally and physically after hot yoga. I will likely make this a regular part of my lifestyle and pursuit of emotional and physical health. The activity is also a good one to try with your partner.

Give it a shot and see how you feel.