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Bilingualism & Alzheimer’s

February 22, 2011

Speaking a second language may slow down the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Speaking up against Alzheimer’s…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Speaking more than one language could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according a new study. Researchers at York University in Canada examined the records of 400 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Half of them were bilingual and half spoke only one language. Research psychologist Ellen Bialystok says the bilinguals developed Alzheimer’s an average of 4 ½ years later than monolinguals, suggesting that they can better cope with its cognitive impairments.

ELLEN BIALYSTOK (York University):

We don’t believe bilingualism prevents Alzheimer’s disease. What we’re saying is, people who have been bilingual have more reserve, they have more resources to continue functioning at a high level in spite of the disease progressing in their brains.

HIRSHON:

She says that’s probably because the effort of speaking two languages requires the brain to work harder. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.