Why Speak More Than One Language
To help preserve mental health, I’ve long advocated learning a new language as a challenge for your brain. New research from Canada’s Concordia University has shown that there’s a measurable beneficial effect of speaking at least two languages: the ability increases the brain’s cortical thickness and grey matter density. Furthermore, the researchers found that these beneficial changes can be seen even in multilingual people with cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
The research team used MRIs to compare the language and cognition regions of the brain in patients with mild cognitive impairment who spoke only one language with those who were multilingual. They also looked at the same brain areas in monolingual and multilingual patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Both brain areas are important for memory and show atrophy in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. Lead researcher Natalie Phillips said the findings also seem to suggest that multilingual people are able to compensate for tissue loss related to mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease “by accessing alternative networks or other brain regions for memory processing.” These findings seem to back up conclusions from earlier studies showing that being bilingual can help delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by as many as five years.
Natalie A. Phillips et al, “Structural brain differences between monolingual and multilingual patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease: Evidence for cognitive reserve.” Neuropsychologia, January 31, 2018; 109: 270 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.12.036
Also in this week’s bulletin: