Many people are aware of the devastating effects that dementia can have in later life. There are many alternative therapies which purport to reduce the risk of developing forms of dementia. However, the cause of development has still to be completely documented and confirmed.
While there are a number of genetic markers which can provide an indicator of a higher rate of risk, a recent study has highlighted a possible link between speaking multiple languages and a later onset of the condition.
The study conducted in India and recently published in Neurology, examined over six hundred people who were diagnosed with a form of dementia. The group had an an average age of sixty six and of the participants almost four hundred were bilingual. The researchers found that those people who spoke a second language had a later onset of dementia when compared to those who only spoke one language.
The findings also dispute previous theories that education level and literacy were an important factor in the development of dementia. Many of the participants in the research were illiterate, yet the results failed to support the education dementia theories. The study concluded that this theory failed to provide a “sufficient explanation” according to Suvarna Alladi, lead researcher.
The results documented an average delay for the onset of dementia symptoms by an average of five years. This average was unaffected by the level of education or literacy of the individual. According the University of Edinburgh’s Thomas Bak, co author of the paper, bilingualism requires a number of different processes in the brain and “stimulates your brain all the time.”
These finding support the results of smaller studies which were conducted in Canada. However, the location of India provided the opportunity for larger scaled research since bilingualism is extremely common in India. This study provides positive encouragement for families to encourage children to learn a new language as it may be extremely beneficial in later life.
It is also suggested that bilingual families should continue to speak both languages at home. However, the results were unclear about whether learning a second language later in life could provide the same level of benefits. More research is needed but according to experts “it may never be too late”.