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Speaking two languages can delay Alzheimer's by four years

"These findings confirm previous research suggesting that bilingualism can slow down cognitive aging," researchers say.

By Brooks Hays
Speaking two languages can delay Alzheimer's by four years
Researchers say bilingualism can delay Alzheimer's by four to five years. Photo by Dickelbers/CC

GHENT, Belgium, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Learning and speaking more than one language could delay the onset of dementia by as many as four or five years. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Ghent found that the average age of diagnosis for Alzheimer's patients who only speak one language was 73. For bilinguals, the age was 77. For some, multilingualism delayed onset by five years.

Between March 2013 and May 2014, researchers at the Belgian university studied the case history of 69 monolingual patients and 65 bilingual patients, all of which were undergoing treatment for probable Alzheimer's disease. The analysis revealed that both manifestation and diagnosis of the neurodegenerative disease occurred four to five years later for Belgians who spoke more than one language.

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"These findings confirm previous research suggesting that bilingualism can slow down cognitive aging and contribute to cognitive reserve," researchers wrote in a press release announcing the publication of their new self-published study. "It seems that constantly and actively controlling two languages is like a workout for the brain. It challenges our grey cells and keeps them from degenerating."

Previous MRI imaging studies have shown that the brains of bilingual humans have higher densities of both gray and white matter. Learning another language has also been isolated as a factor contributing to improved "cognitive reserve" and "neural efficiency," the researchers wrote in their paper.

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