Dementia Delayed by Learning a Second Language

Second Language GuidebooksIf you ever considered learning another language, you might want to enroll in a language course today. According to a new study published in the November 2013 issue of the journal Neurology, speaking a second language delays the onset of three types of dementia.

Researchers in the Department of Neurology at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom recently looked at 648 patients diagnosed with dementia. Of the total patients, 240 had Alzheimer’s disease, 189 had vascular dementia, and 116 had frontotemporal dementia. Sixty percent (391) were bilingual.

To determine an association between speaking a second language and a delay in the onset of dementia, the researchers compared the age at onset of first symptoms in the monolingual group to the age of onset in the bilingual group.

Even after controlling for compounding factors, the researchers discovered that patients who spoke a second language first developed symptoms of dementia 4.5 years later than patients who spoke only one language.

More importantly, 14 percent of the patients included in the study were illiterate. Therefore, speaking a second language alone offers protection in delaying the onset of dementia. As Suvarna Alladi, the lead researcher of the study, explains:

“Our study is the first to report an advantage of speaking two languages in people who are unable to read, suggesting that a person’s level of education is not a sufficient explanation for this difference.”

The researchers also noted that speaking one other language is enough to delay the onset of dementia. Speaking additional languages offers no additional protection.

Alladi concludes:

“Speaking more than one language is thought to lead to better development of the areas of the brain that handle executive functions and attention tasks, which may help protect from the onset of dementia.”

Thomas Bak, another researcher on the study, notes that the results of this study indicate a strong need for additional research on the relationship between cognition and bilingualism.


Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status:
Dementia delayed by speaking a second language:

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