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Speaking second language may delay Alzheimer's--study

Analyzing the CT scans of brains of study subjects, the researchers found that bilingual patients were diagnosed with Alzheimer's four and five years later compared to the monolingual patients.

Here's another benefit of learning a new language. Being bilingual not only improves your linguistic and meta linguistic abilities, it may also delay Alzheimer's, researchers find.

According to a new study presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington D.C. this week, mastering a second language improves brain's functioning in a way that it can delay the onset of worst phase of dementia.

So far the studies done on bilingualism have focused on infants. Research has shown that speaking in two languages to babies makes them learn both in time it takes babies to learn one language. Also, their brain is more flexible, has better executive control, and is able to multi-task.

The researchers stated that being bilingual does not ward off Alzheimer's, it only delays the onset of the disease. Alzheimer's begins its silent attack but the symptoms of it become apparent later.

450 Alzheimer's patients studied
To determine the link between second language and Alzheimer's, a team of researchers led by Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, conducted a study on 450 people suffering from Alzheimer's.

At the beginning of the study, all the patients had same degree of impairment. Half of the patients spoke two languages for most of their lives. The other half spoke knew one language.

Analyzing the CT scans of brains of study subjects, the researchers found that bilingual patients were diagnosed with Alzheimer's four and five years later compared to the monolingual patients.

"What we've been able to show is that in these patients... all of whom have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and are all at the same level of impairment, the bilinguals on average are four to five years older -- which means that they've been able to cope with the disease," stated Professor Bialystok.

Second language exercises brain's executive control system
The researchers stated that being bilingual does not ward off Alzheimer's, it only delays the onset of the disease. Alzheimer's begins its silent attack but the symptoms of it become apparent later.

“Once the disease begins to compromise this region of the brain, bilinguals can continue to function,” added Professor Bialystok.

The reason behind this is that people who are bilingual exercise more a part of the brain which is called executive control system. This is the most important part of the mind as it forms the basis of one's ability to “think in complex ways.”

Explaining the executive control system of brain, she added, “It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank.”

Even starting learning the language at 40, 50, or 60, one can keep the brain active.

The results of research were published in the Nov. 9, 2010 issue of the journal 'Neurology.'