30 March 2012

Bilingual Persons Less Likely To Develop Dementia Symptoms

Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Dementia is a serious loss of global cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired or normal person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging. It may be static dementia, the result of a unique global brain injury, or progressive dementia, resulting in long-term decline due to damage or disease in the body.

Although dementia is associated with the elderly, there are cases that occur to patients below the age of 65. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.

There are many stages of dementia, it usually first appears as forgetfulness.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging and the early beginnings of dementia. People affected with MCI have mild problems with thinking and memory that do not interfere with everyday activities. They are often aware of the forgetfulness. MCI does not guarantee the onset of dementia.

Aside from memory problems, dementia reduces the ability to learn, reason, retain or recall past experience and there is also loss of patterns of thoughts, feelings and activities. Mental and behavioral problems arise and may affect the person's quality of life.

New research explains how speaking more than one language may translate to better mental health. A paper published by Cell Press in the March 29th issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences examines how being bilingual can offer protection from the symptoms of dementia, and also suggests that the increasing diversity in our world populations may have an unexpected positive impact on the resiliency of the adult brain.

"Previous studies have established that bilingualism has a beneficial effect on cognitive development in children," explains lead study author, Dr. Ellen Bialystok from York University. "In our paper, we reviewed recent studies using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods to examine the effects of bilingualism on cognition in adults."

Video: What is Dementia?

Dr. Bialystok and colleagues discuss the intriguing finding that the need to monitor two languages in order to select the appropriate one recruits brain regions that are critical for general attention and cognitive control. Using these cognitive control networks for bilingual language processing may reconfigure and strengthen them, perhaps enhancing "mental flexibility", the ability to adapt to ongoing changes and process information efficiently.

Studies also suggest that bilingualism improves "cognitive reserve", the protective effect that stimulating mental or physical activity has on cognitive functioning in healthy aging. Cognitive reserve can also postpone the onset of symptoms in those suffering from dementia. This is supported by studies showing that bilinguals experience onset symptoms of dementia years later than monolinguals.

"Our conclusion is that lifelong experience in managing attention to two languages reorganizes specific brain networks, creating a more effective basis for executive control and sustaining better cognitive performance throughout the lifespan," says Dr. Bialystok. "It should not be surprising that intense and sustained experience leaves its mark on our minds and brains, and it is now clear that the bilingual brain has been uniquely shaped by experience."


Cell Press
Trends in Cognitive Sciences
York University
Alzheimer's Disease Risk Minimized by Eating Fish
Breakthrough in Fight Against Alzheimer's Disease
Healthy Diet Leads to Better Mental Performance and Minimizes Brain Shrinkage
Vitamin D Deficiency Linked To High Mortality Rates in Nursing Home Residents
Scent of Rosemary Enhances and Improves Brain's Cognitive Performance
Lack of Omega 3 Fatty Acids May Cause Brain to Age Faster and Inhibit Memory and Thinking Functions
Decaffeinated Coffee Improves Brain Metabolism in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes
New Developments In Epilepsy Surgery