Mar 15, 2018 by Larry Morgan
Have you ever met someone who was bilingual, perhaps from your country or someone from a foreign land, and wondered why they seemed to smart? This feeling is amplified with someone speaks even more languages – someone would have to be brilliant to switch between several dialects like that, right?
It has scientifically been shown that yes, those who speak more than one language are inadvertently smarter. A new study shows that this skill activates different parts of your brain than normal learning or cognitive training, causing those who are multilingual or more to have more active and healthier brains.
Even more interestingly, this news could make multilingualism be another preventative measure for Alzheimer’s:
We’ve known some of this information for a few years now. A study conducted in 2013 actually verified that those who were bilingual were able to delay an Alzheimer’s diagnosis by 4.5 years more than single-language speakers.
The study’s authors suggested that this language skill perhaps work different parts of your brain, and strengthens those that play a role in attention skills and executive function.
But this was only a hypothesis back then – a hypothesis that has just been empirically verified in a new study. These new authors say their study is the first of its kind to actually prove the link between bilingualism and delaying Alzheimer’s onset. They accomplished this by using MRI scans instead of tomography scans, the prior being more reliable.
This study also took a certain variable into account that other studies didn’t: the participants’ immigration status. They focused solely on language instead of this possible confounder, amongst others.
MRI data from 68 patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI; the precursor to Alzheimer’s) and 26 with Alzheimer’s was analyzed. Half of each group has monolingual (only speaking one language), and the other half multilingual (more than one language).
The frontal and medial temporal lobes of the brain were focused on, as these areas are responsible for both language control and cognitive function.
They found that these regions in the multilingual participants were thicker. This helps give the brain more plasticity, which is a vital component to retaining cognitive function. Brain plasticity allows the neurons to rewire or reroute themselves when needed. This function is seemingly lost in monolingual Alzheimer’s disease, but being multilingual can help retain this ability.
When doing a mirror study in Canada to see if immigration plays a factor in this, they found the same results, thus ruling this confounder out of the way of the valid data.
Therefore, among the many other benefits learning another language can give you, it can also be just one of the many lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.