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Speaking Multiple Languages Possibly More Powerful than Drugs in Staving Off Dementia

DementiahashimotosSpeaking multiple languages may help stave off dementia as many as five years, a new study found.

A team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in India looked at nearly 650 dementia patients, determining when each had been diagnosed with the condition. 

Overall, those who spoke two or more languages tended to experience a later onset of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia, regardless of whether they attended school or were literate.

The study is the largest to gauge the impact of bilingualism on dementia regardless of their gender, education, occupation or residence, all of which have been examined as possible influencers on the condition’s onset. Based on the results, the researchers were able to confirm that the trends were not the result of differences in formal education.

Hyderabad, India represented a unique study opportunity since, as is the case in many parts of India, bilingualism is part of everyday life. Unlike the United States, for example, knowing several languages is the norm for people there, and those who speak only one language are outliers.

Though further research is needed in order to determine why speaking multiple languages delays the onset of dementia, one hypothesis is that switching between languages represents a form of brain training far more effective than any artificial program offered, the researchers suggest.

Either way, the results are significant, according to the study’s authors.

“These findings suggest that bilingualism might have a stronger influence on dementia that any currently available drugs,” Thomas Bak, a researcher from the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement. “This makes the study of the relationship between bilingualism and cognition one of our highest priorities.”

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