Learning Second Language Slows Brain Aging

brain

What You Need to Know: Learning a second language can have a positive effect on the brain, even if it is taken up in adulthood, a University of Edinburgh study suggests. Researchers found that reading, verbal fluency and intelligence were improved in a study of 262 people tested either aged 11 or in their seventies.

Background: A previous study suggested that being bilingual could delay the onset of dementia by several years. The big question in this study was whether learning a new language improved cognitive functions or whether individuals with better cognitive abilities were more likely to become bilingual. Dr Thomas Bak, from the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said he believed he had found the answer.

“Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain,” offers Dr. Bak.

The Evidence: Using data from intelligence tests on 262 Edinburgh-born individuals at the age of 11, the study looked at how their cognitive abilities had changed when they were tested again in their seventies. The research was conducted between 2008 and 2010.

  • All participants said they were able to communicate in at least one language other than English.
  • Of that group, 195 learned the second language before the age of 18, and 65 learned it after that time.

The findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would have been expected from their baseline test. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who learned their second language early, as well as later in life.

Dr Bak said the pattern they found was “meaningful” and the improvements in attention, focus and fluency could not be explained by original intelligence. “These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”

But he admitted that the study also raised many questions, such as whether learning more than one language could also have the same positive effect on cognitive ageing and whether actively speaking a second language is better than just knowing how to speak it.

Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, US, said: “The epidemiological study provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the ageing brain.

“This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and I am a big fan of japanesepod101.com (they have a number of other languages that you can study on the fly). The site has both free and for sale components.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27634990; Annals of Neurology 2014: DOI: 10.1002/ana.24158

Published by

understandcancerin60minutes

Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s