We’re all familiar with the benefits of speaking multiple languages. Better job prospects, enriching travel experiences, and improved brain power to name just a few. But in the past five years, we’re starting to learn it can play a vital role in keeping our brains healthy, too.
Recent research has shown that bilingualism prevents the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms and that the disease is less prevalent in countries where bilingualism is common.
In this article, we’ll take a dive into the new research, how you can learn a new language even in old age, and how memory care can aid in fighting dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
What Are Researchers Saying?
There are a lot of studies on bilingualism’s effect on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve chosen three studies that we think will give you the best understanding of the new research.
A study from 2017 in Northern Italy found that people who spoke more than one language develop dementia symptoms an average of five years later and are able to cope with a greater level of brain dysfunction than their monolingual counterparts.
When examining brain scans of the two groups, the researchers found that bilinguals showed better performance in areas of the brain that used executive control. And the extent to which they use their second language was significantly correlated to their defense against the disease.
A study from UCLA in 2020 had similar findings, stating that bilingualism delayed dementia by four years. What is interesting about this study though, is that they found bilingualism delays dementia even if a second language was learned later in life.
It’s not when you learned the language, but how proficient you are in that language. Switching languages exercises executive functions such as working memory, handling emotions, and self-control. The better these parts of your brain are exercised, the more resilient your brain is to dysfunction.
A study by the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) found that in countries where one or more languages are commonly spoken, the prevalence of dementia is 50 percent lower than in regions that only use one language.
The report stated that when the brain is not functioning well due to disease, being bilingual teaches it to use alternative systems to find solutions. And similar to the other studies mentioned, they found the more people use their bilingual ability, the more neuro-protection they have.
There is certainly a lot of information to unpack with this new wave of published research, but the main thing to take away is that engaging in a new language can have long-term benefits for your brain’s health.
Is It Too Late To Learn?
Perhaps the best news of this research is that it’s not too late to learn a language to protect yourself against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s no secret that learning a new language is easier when you’re a kid. But it’s by no means impossible to pick up new skills in old age. There are countless stories of people over fifty becoming fluent in a new language and starting a new chapter of their life. But what’s the best way to go about it?
The first step of learning anything is to find a motivation to keep you going through the learning process. And what’s a better reason to learn than protecting your brain?
Next, consider keeping these tips in mind:
- Take Small Steps: You’re not going to be fluent overnight and there’s no reason to rush yourself. The important thing is engaging your brain in this new activity. Start small to keep encouragement high in the beginning.
- Find a Study Buddy: Tell a friend about the research and that you’re going to start learning a new language. Or maybe your children and grandchildren want to take the leap into a new subject. Having a study buddy makes the whole process more fun and provides accountability.
- Be Easy on Yourself: You’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and that’s okay. The most important thing is that you’re engaging yourself in a stimulating activity. Results will come when they need to, so be easy on yourself when you feel stuck at times. It happens to everyone when learning a new language.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: To get the most benefits in neuro-protection you need to constantly engage your brain in using a second language. Practice a little bit each day and talk to other people who are fluent in the language or who are learning with you.
How Memory Care Can Help
Learning a second language can do wonders for delaying dementia symptoms and improving cognitive function. But if you need additional help, in-home memory care can provide a great option for supporting loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Memory care provides in-home care with a specialization in managing and delaying memory-loss symptoms. A memory care plan is fully customized to your loved one’s needs and offers stimulating activities to keep their memory engaged.
If you’d like to talk more about memory care or how in-home care can be a benefit to your family, contact Golden Care today. We take pride in being San Diego’s trusted in-home care provider.