Bilingualism affects Alzheimer's onset

Nov. 8, 2010 at 5:20 PM
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TORONTO, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Canadian scientists say they've found evidence that people who speak two languages can escape the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms by as much as five years.

Researchers from Toronto's Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute examined the clinical records of more than 200 patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease and found that those who were bilingual and speaking two or more languages consistently over many years experienced a delay in the onset of their symptoms, an institute release said Monday.

While bilingual Alzheimer's sufferers still show deteriorating pathology, their ability with two languages seems to equip them with compensatory skills to hold back the tell-tale symptoms of Alzheimer's, such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulties with problem-solving and planning, researchers say.

"We are not claiming that bilingualism in any way prevents Alzheimer's or other dementias, but it may contribute to cognitive reserve in the brain which appears to delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms for quite some time," lead investigator Fergus Craik says.

The study adds to growing evidence that lifestyle factors such as regular cardiovascular exercise, a healthy diet, and speaking more than one language can play a central role in how the brain copes with age-related cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer's, scientists say.

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