Research on language speakers shows many benefits to learning languages, but perhaps the most exciting is the effects of bilingualism in ageing. The research indicates that bilingualism seems to protect against dementia.
The discoveries began with Psycholinguist Ellen Bialystok of York University in Toronto. She was comparing ageing people who spoke one language with bilinguals of the same age. Astonishingly she found that bilinguals showed signs of Alzheimer’s Disease later than those subjects who spoke one language – the difference was four to five years!
She ascribes this to a “re-wiring” of the brain the brain in bilinguals. It improves the executive system and boosts people’s “cognitive reserve”. This means that if some parts of the brain are damaged, bilinguals can compensate more easily.
Bilingualism can also offer protection after brain injury. Thomas Bak of the University of Edinburgh studied 600 stroke survivors and found that that cognitive recovery after a stroke was twice as likely for bilinguals as for monolinguals.
This research suggests bilingualism helps keep us mentally fit. With Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases on the rise, perhaps we should all learn at least one extra language! In the same way that we do physical exercise to keep our bodies fit, it may be a good idea to spend time on learning languages to improve our mental fitness.
Thomas Bak has done a small study with elderly people learning Gaelic in Scotland and seen significant benefits after just one week. It’s not easy to practise foreign languages if you are in a monolingual environment, but la Academia can help with that! So, get down to la Academia and start reaping the benefits of this research by brushing up a language you have previously learned, or by starting a new one.