New studies suggest that speaking two languages can delay dementia, and we are digging deep into it!
More than 5 million Americans are currently living with age-related dementia. It is estimated that one of every six women and one of every ten men over 55 are diagnosed with dementia in the country.
While there is no cure for this condition, recent studies have shown that an active brain has fewer chances of having dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and one of the ways to keep it working is to learn new languages. Today, we dive deep into the same.
What Exactly Is Dementia?
Dementia is not an illness but a disorder, a condition where a person has trouble dealing with memory and behavioral patterns. It is a condition that gradually progresses over time and, unfortunately, has no cure in the present time. It can last for many years, and it might be a life-long thing if it is related to age.
Symptoms of Dementia
Many symptoms direct you or your loved one to be in the early stages of dementia. Read on to learn more about them-
- Misplacing items
- Memory loss that progresses over time
- Hesitant to try new things
- Less flexible
- A problem doing simple tasks such as bathing and eating
- Forgetting the names of people, places, and daily items
- Asking the same questions over and over
Mid and later-stage symptoms of dementia include –
- Considerable weight loss or weight gain
- Problem moving from one place to another without assistance
- Gradual loss of speech
- Significant problems with remembering things
- Impulsive behavior
- Not able to make explicit judgments
- Problem in decision-making
What’s the Cure?
There is no medical cure for dementia. However, medicines do contribute to controlling and managing the disorder’s symptoms. However, if you are over 40 years of age and fear dementia, you can indulge in certain activities that can protect you from dementia or delay it. Some of these activities are listed below-
- Maintaining weight
- Working out
- Yoga and meditation
- Deep breathing
- Staying in nature
- Quitting smoking
- Solving puzzles
- Being mentally sharp
- Learning new things regularly, including languages
New Languages for the Elderly
Growing through old age can be challenging physically, but it does not have to be so mentally. We mean that after crossing the age of 45, do not resort to the ‘old-age’ factor and stop learning new things.
Keep your brain active and start learning a new language or art, anything that creates new neural pathways in your brain.
Speaking of the same, learning new languages is the perfect way to keep dementia at bay throughout your active life. Let’s look at the studies that prove the same about new languages for the elderly.
What do experts say?
Researchers have found and confirmed that bilingual people very rarely show any sign of dementia – the three kinds of it and Alzheimer’s disease.
According to a report published by Neurology Journal, speaking two languages can delay dementia symptoms. Stephen Rao from the Cleveland Clinic for Brain Health explains that the cognitive capacity of the brain gets impacted by occupational status, education, doing high-order thinking activities, and even bilingualism.
Thus, the impact of dementia is lesser on people with better cognitive ability than those without since their brain functions such as memory and behavioral pattern works quicker and more refined.
However, Dr. Thomas Bak, from the University of Edinburgh, observed that speaking two languages is not related to the educational level of the person because even illiterates can speak multiple languages.
Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health, observed that language training and the ability to learn new languages give an additional boost to cognitive thinking over and above what education does.
What about the studies?
Many studies have confirmed the brain’s ability to delay dementia by learning two or more languages. Some of the examples of these studies are shared below.
Psychologist Ellen Bialystok and her colleagues at York University in Toronto researched 450 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Out of this, half were bilingual, and half knew one language.
It was observed that people who knew more than one language were diagnosed with the disorder four years later than those who knew only one language. Her research was published in the Nov. 9, 2010 issue of Neurology.
Another research conducted in Hyderabad, India, revealed that speaking two languages slowed the onset of dementia (all three kinds). The study was the largest of its kind (so far) and also included Alzheimer’s disease in its research. It was concluded that bilingual people showed the signs of dementia 4.5 years later than those who knew or studied a single language.
The research, led by Dr. Suvarna Alladi, a professor of neurology at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, recorded the case of 648 patients from India diagnosed with dementia from June 2006 to October 2021. Out of these, 391 were bilingual, and many spoke more than four languages, while 14 percent were illiterate.
It was noted that factors such as education, occupation, status, sex, etc., were independent of being bilingual. It was concluded that individuals who spoke a single language developed the early signs of dementia at 61, while those who were bilingual showed the symptoms about 3 to 4 years later.
It was also observed people who couldn’t read delayed dementia for about six years in comparison to those who spoke only one language -this cleared out the doubt that education and status have to do something with the onset of dementia.
Even after all these studies, the main reason why learning two languages delays dementia isn’t clear.
Another study published in the journal Child Development concluded that children who were bilingual in languages such as French, Chinese, or Spanish were observed to have been better at multitasking. It is believed that they would have better cognitive functions later in their lives.
What about the elders who aren’t bilingual?
Those who know a single language, however, aren’t doomed. Bilingualism isn’t the only protection against the onset of a disorder as severe as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It is, in fact, one of the many things you can do to keep your brain functioning and working even during the later stages of life.
You can keep your brain engaged by solving puzzles, learning a new art, educating yourself in diverse areas of life, and practicing mindfulness.
Even if you aren’t bilingual, you know that your brain is active and engaged, and thus, you are doing your best to keep your brain healthy and safe from mental disorders.
If you have the time to talk and gossip about mundane events all day, then you can also have time to solve a puzzle, read a book, or do something that stimulates your brain.
These doses of new activities introduced to your brain are the first and only step towards delaying amnesia, even if you aren’t bilingual.
We hope we were able to present all facets of how bilingualism can be a key factor in delaying dementia. If you have queries about the data we presented, feel free to drop us a word, and we will get back to you.
If you liked the article, please share it with others who would like to learn more about learning new languages and how it helps prevent dementia.