In a recent study in the journal Cortex, a group of Toronto researchers have suggested that speaking more than one language may slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Using CT scans, they showed that bilingual people had twice as much brain damage before showing signs of the disease compared to those who spoke one language.
Lead researcher Dr. Tom Schweizer commented in a release: “This is unheard of - no medicine comes close to delaying the onset of symptoms and now we have the evidence to prove this at the neuroanatomical level.”
This small study compared people diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s who had similar education and skills such as attention, memory, and organization. Half were bilingual and the other half were monolingual.
Although both groups did equally well when tested, CT scans of the bilingual participants showed twice as much brain damage. This indicates that bilingual brains may be better equipped to deal with damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Schweizer noted that if you speak two languages you are using your brain more actively, which may keep it healthier. But he added that the simple fact of speaking two languages cannot prevent Alzheimer’s.
However it doesn’t hurt to “exercise” your brain as you get older. Even if you don’t speak two languages you can still help to keep your brain in shape by doing puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku regularly.
The study was conducted in Toronto, an ideal setting since it is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. According to the 2006 census, nearly half Toronto’s inhabitants speak a language other than English as their mother tongue.