Statistics show that 43% of the population speak two languages fluently and 13% speak at least three languages. The benefits are vast when it comes to living day-to-day life, from having an advantage at work to connecting with more people globally.
However, recent research has also shown that being bilingual is actually good for your health. It promotes overall brain health as it can help delay the onset of chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s.
Neuro-degenerative disease (ND) is an umbrella term for a host of chronic disorders that affect the structure or function of neurons.
Alzheimer’s Disease is an ND that primarily targets memory and basic reasoning skills. Healthline explains that it is a progressive disease, which starts as a mild cognitive impairment and gradually worsens.
Parkinson’s Disease affects the motor functions of the patient, which can cause uncontrollable tremors, stiffness, and difficulty in moving.
Meanwhile, HD causes the slow breakdown of the neurons which can manifest into a wider range of symptoms including cognitive, movement, and psychiatric disorders.
All these diseases are incurable and can progress to other related disorders.
Dementia is another umbrella term for persistent symptoms that affect normal functions of the brain such as memory and speech. It can occur with age or as a side effect of these illnesses.
Bilingualism has been found to give people with NDs an advantage over monolingual patients.
A new study by psychologist Natalie Phillips involved tests on areas of the brain responsible for memory in patients with AD.
She found that multilingual patients had thicker cortex (or outer layer) on the frontal lobe, then those who only speak one language. Consequently, patients were able to delay it by 4-5 years, the study suggests.
Studies on the benefits of bilingualism focusing on brain health generally mention cognitive reserve.
In other words, learning a language helps the brain’s ability to slow damage within the memory bank. Speaking two languages can significantly contributes to this ability to low down memory loss.
People who speak two languages exercise the executive control system of the brain. It’s responsible for recall, focus, multi-tasking, and inhibition.
Inhibition is important because they have to suppress one language while speaking in another. All this mental stimulation can effectively increase cognitive reserve and make the brain more resistant to damage caused by the different diseases.
Research on bilingualism has the potential to be groundbreaking in terms of memory loss. Even if seniors don’t become fluent speaking a new language, the learning process can aid in keeping their brains active.
If you want to help the elderly exercise their minds, check out Lingo Hut’s previous post on language learning. You never know how life-changing it can be.
Article exclusively written for lingohut.com
By Catriona Grace