New research suggests that it may be bilingual to postpone Alzheimer’s symptoms.

A new study has found that while bilingualism can hold back the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, it can also lead to a faster decline down the track

There are countless ways to stimulate the brain, from Sudoku to high intensity training courses to playing trombone–and perhaps even avoid Alzheimer disease. Nonetheless, a new study shows that communicating in a second language can be of great importance if the cognitive loss is delayed.

Toronto researchers found bilingual individuals with mild cognitive impairment, or minor but noteworthy improvements in the mind’s function in the study published last month in the journal Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders more rapidly than their monolingual colleagues, which was full blown up by Alzheimer’s disease.

These results support the notion that for years, bilinguals will live with Alzheimer’s disease, but they do not function, said Ellen Bialystok, an outstanding research professor at the Department of Psychology of York University. This study is based on previous research, which shows that the ability of people to tolerate loss and decline seems to improve their language skills.

And, as the illness progresses and is not able to make up for it more, “they will deteriorate more rapidly at some stage as they deal with much more disease,” she said.

Language is especially stimulating in terms of lifestyle behaviors that build cognitive reserves, as we use it all waking hours and it stimulates all parts of the brain, Bialystok said. But in fact, people who know more than one language still have them at their fingertips. She said that there is no shutting off a single language, which means bilinguals are continually choosing the language they want, though they may not know.

“Such a preference is a constant cognitive prerequisite for bilingualism,” said Dr. Bialystok.

She and her team analyzed the patient records of 83 monolingual and 75 bilingual participants during the latest study performed at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto. Although the previous research by the team found that the study participants were on average four years older than monolingual when diagnosed with dementia, when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, their age was not different.

In the bilingual group, however, the diagnosis at the time of their mild cognitive impairment was about two years longer, on average than the monolingual group.

Researchers found that the average progress of bilingual participants from mild cognitive impairment to diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease took approximately 1,9 years, while the average time needed for single language participants was approximately 2.6 years. Although the two groups were balanced in terms of clinical symptoms at the start of the study, bilingual patients were likely to face greater diseases, says Bialystok. Bialystok.

The two classes, as illustrated on a chart: the cognitive function of the monolinguals is represented by a short and incremental decrease base, while a higher slope, reflecting the bilingual participants with their higher reserve of cognition, ends in a steeper immersion.

The Associate Professor Vanessa Taler, not a participant in the research, was pleased by these results at the Psychology School of the University of Ottawa, since they are consistent with past studies in the field.

It would be interesting to look at the effect of bilingualism on people with various subtypes of mild cognitive impairment, Taler said. “The age of somebody begins speaking a second speech and how well and how much they use it and which languages they talk are other factors, that may affect cognitive reserve,” she said, “but more study is needed. (Mild cognitive impairment is a quite unpredictable term, since not all patients develop dementia and some of them are even returning to their normal cognition.)

“The work in this area is state-of – the-art, so we’re starting from here,” she said.

Back in Toronto, Bialystok also asked people if learning the second language was too late for them. Her answer: It’s unlikely that anyone would get the same boost in cognitive reserve than a bilingual speaker for a lifetime if they begin to learn another language late.

She stressed, however, that anything stimulating for the brain is healthy.

“As long as you stimulate the brain, you support cognitive power,” she said. “Then just make sure you do something when you do not understand language.”

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