The Costa Rica experience may keep older expats from becoming dingy.
There is a mountain of literature that says those who speak two languages can delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s by up to five years. But dementia is a pretty drastic condition and responds to a diagnosis.
In a Dartmouth University study, researchers used an optical imaging technology to find areas in the brain that indicate bilingualism and found an increase in brain activity in both the left and the right hemisphere of bilingual participants in the study.
There are a lot of unsupported suggestions on the Internet that learning a new language or even tracing a family history can keep seniors sharp.
The Concordia seems to provide scientific support for that belief.
And, of course, most expats who move to Costa Rica find learning Spanish a necessity. If they move here with children, there is an added advantage.
There is another mountain of academic literature relating to bilingual children, who seem to have an edge over their monolingual peers.
Now comes evidence that older bilingual adults compensate for age-related declines in brainpower by developing new strategies to process language. In other words bilingualism gives older adults the edge even with lesser lapses.
The latest study comes from Concordia University’s Department of Psychology.
“As we get older, our working memory capacity and ability to quickly process words declines,” said Natalie Phillips, a professor at the Montreal, Canada, institution. “As a result, older adults become a little more strategic with capacity. It’s important to stress these are normal and mild age-related changes. Participants didn’t have any cognitive deficit. Rather, they were making the best use of mental resources by using context to help them process language.”
Experimental subjects, both bilinguals and monolinguals, were asked to process three words at a time from a long list. Neurophysiological responses to these words were recorded using an electroencephalograph, an instrument that records the brain’s electrical activity and the speed of response was recorded, the university said.