Speaking a second language could protect from Alzheimer's

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Language and the brain

People who are bilingual have enhanced brain function that researchers say doesn't make them smarter, but does give them specials skills. Speaking more than one language may protect from Alzheimer's and dementia because of the unique mental abilities that come from being able to process different languages.

Multi-tasking easier for bilingual individuals

One of the special brain skills that comes from speaking more than one language is sorting out irrelevant information. Compared to monolinguals, the ability to multi-task is higher in bilingual individuals.

According to Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Penn State, people who speak more than one language are better able to prioritize and sift through non-essential information compared to monolingual individuals.

The finding is not the first published to show learning two languages might stave of dementia. Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at York University, Toronto is credited for playing a major role in the research findings, published previously here at Emax Health.

Kroll says research findings contradict prior conclusions that bilingualism hindered cognitive development in children. Contrary to the notion, speaking multiple languages improves mental skills that could prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease that might occur with aging.


"The received wisdom was that bilingualism created confusion, especially in children," said Kroll at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. "The belief was that people who could speak two or more languages had difficulty using either. The bottom line is that bilingualism is good for you."

She explains bilinguals rarely make word mistakes during conversation. Their brains are like a mental gymnasiums. "Even though language choices may be on the tip of their tongue, bilinguals rarely make a wrong choice."

The findings that speaking more than one language improves certain mental skills was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. "The bilingual is somehow able to negotiate between the competition of the languages," Kroll said. "The speculation is that these cognitive skills come from this juggling of languages."

Scientists used MRI and electroencephalography to detect how the brain works to juggle languages. They also observed eye movements to see how bilinguals comprehend certain words when reading that are distinctive compared to monolingual individuals.

Researchers explain they have been tracking the benefits of bilingualism and the effect on the brain throughout lifetimes. The findings show speaking more than one language is mentally good for children and adults alike and might protect from diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.

Penn State