New study supports idea that lauguages keep mind working

Another reason has emerged for retirees to choose Costa Rica for a home.

A new study reports that people who speak more than two languages may lower their risk of developing memory problems. That study from Luxembourg adds weight to findings last year in Canada that bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to five years.

Retirees who make an effort to learn or improve Spanish would seem to be developing some protection that delays the onset of Alzheimer’s or other memory diminishing effects. Learning or knowing a third language would provide even more protection.

The most recent study was just released. It will be presented formally to other researchers in April at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

“It appears speaking more than two languages has a protective effect on memory in seniors who practice foreign languages over their lifetime or at the time of the study,” said study author Magali Perquin of the Center for Health Studies from the Public Research Center for Health in Luxembourg. Perquin is helping to lead the study which involves a consortium of partners from different hospitals and institutions. He was quoted in a release from the academy.

The study involved 230 men and women with an average age of 73 who had spoken or currently spoke two to seven languages. Of the participants, 44 reported cognitive problems. The rest of the group had no memory issues, according to the academy summary. It also said:

• People who spoke four or more languages were five times
less likely to develop cognitive problems compared to
those people who only spoke two languages.

• People who spoke three languages were three times less
likely to have cognitive problems compared to bilinguals. In addition, people who currently spoke more than two languages were also four times less likely to have cognitive impairment. The results accounted for the age and the education of the participants.

The research was conducted in Luxembourg, where there is a dense population of people who speak more than two languages.

The Canadian study was published in the journal Neurology in November. It found that lifelong use of two or more languages keeps symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia at bay, according to a summary from York University. Study co-author Ellen Bialystok is a professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health.

“All the patients in the study had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so clearly bilingualism does not prevent the onset of dementia,” said Professor Bialystok. “Instead, our results show that people who have been lifelong bilinguals have built up a cognitive reserve that allows them to cope with the disease for a longer period of time before showing symptoms,” she says.

While the brains of bilingual patients did show deterioration, researchers said they believe that the use of more than one language equips them with compensatory skills that keep symptoms like memory loss and confusion in check, according to the university summary.

The study was based on the records of more than 200 patients with probable Alzheimer’s disease in Toronto.

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