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


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