Archive for November 17, 2010

Multilingualism now thought to help fight dementia as we grow older

You have no doubt heard or read that brainteasers and word games like crossword puzzles are thought to help us maintain a higher level of mental fitness as we grow older. Canadian studies now suggest that speaking two or more languages can provide a similar benefit, helping people better deal with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative memory diseases.

The finding were recently reported in a New York Times article entitled “Building a More Resilient Brain,” highlighting research that has shown, for example, that for bilingual speakers dementia can be delayed by an average of four years compared to those speaking one language.

Speaking more than one language on a regular basis also seems over time to bolster what is called the brain’s “cognitive reserve.” This refers to the brain’s capacity to operate even when stressed or damaged, and the build-up of this reserve is now thought to benefit us as we grow older.

The theory is that the benefits of bilingualism are related to a type of brain function called “inhibitory control” or “cognitive control.” This, according to Ellen Bialystok, a bilingualism research at York University in Toronto, is the name given to our ability to stop paying attention to one thing and focus on something else, a common necessity among multilingual speakers who must continually ignore one language in their minds to access and communicate in another.

Bialystock and her fellow researchers are quick to point out that multilingualism is not going to prevent Alzheimer’s or other kinds of dementia. But we, and especially today’s hardworking translators, are encouraged to learn that it could just have a positive impact in delaying those conditions.

Till next time,
Steve
viaLanguage

Healthcare innovations should not neglect medical translation needs

Among the intentions of the new health reform legislation is an expansion of choice for today’s healthcare consumer. This focus is already casting into sharper relief the imperative for providers to effectively communicate with their audiences, especially its limited English proficient (LEP) audiences.

HealthPartners, a provider and insurer in Minnesota, recently launched a novel remote diagnosis service. Called Virtuwell, the new service is available online, offering treatment for a range of common conditions that don’t typically require an actual exam. These include colds, allergy-related issues, ear pain, yeast and urinary tract infections, and a host of others.

Patients visiting the site are first asked a set of standard questions en route to diagnosis. The answers are then reviewed by a nurse practitioner, who then contacts the patient directly about 30 minutes later.

It is hoped that the service, which costs about $40 and is available to anyone living in or visiting Minnesota, will streamline the process for medical staff, while enabling patients to enjoy more immediate care and assistance and at a lower cost.

On that score it is a laudable effort. But what is not mentioned, and what seems absent after a brief tour of the Virtuwell site, are any language options. In a state that recent census data identifies as being comprised of a population that is 5 percent foreign born (more than 260,000 people), such an option seems like a missed opportunity.

Till next time,
Steve
viaLanguage