Bilingual exercises the brain and builds up a reserve of brain power which can help it carry on functioning after dementia takes hold. Research has shown that the first signs of memory loss and confusion can set in for people in their mid 70′s for people who can speak one language. For bilingual people this doesn’t set in until they are aged early 80′s. The delayed effect is more pronounced in people who regularly use their second language albeit researchers believe learning a language is still beneficial.
The research has been conducted at York University, Toronto in Canada. Dr Ellen Bialystok, speaking at the American Association for the advancement of Science, has pointed out that speaking a second language does not stop you getting Alzheimer’s disease but means a sufferer can cope with it for longer. She added that being bilingual boosted an area of the brain known as the “executive control system” in the frontal lobe which governs memory, learning, language and reasoning. Speaking another language is more effective than crosswords and sudoku for keeping the brain active.
Around 650,000 Britons have dementia with the majority suffering from Alzheimer’s. This figure is expected to rise by 70% in the next 20 years.