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.

4 thoughts on “Bilingualism and the Brain

  1. Jason

    Very interesting. While I have known the external benefits or learning a new language, I had never considered the positive impacts it would have internally on brain health. Thanks for the informative post.

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