A new Spanish study suggests that bilingualism may delay or prevent the onset of symptoms associated with dementia.
The study, appearing in the peer-reviewed journal Neuropsychologia, included 135 participants with mild cognitive impairment, 68 with Alzheimer’s disease, and 63 who were cognitively healthy.
Among the participants, they were administered questionnaires that assessed their proficiency in the Catalan and Spanish languages. Their linguistic results were then compared to their medical history of onset of symptoms or diagnosis of a neurologically-based condition, like dementia.
According to the researchers at the Open University of Catalonia and Pompeu Fabra University, participants’ lifelong bilingualism led to a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment at a much later age.
“We saw that people with a higher degree of bilingualism were given a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment later than people who were passively bilingual,” a news release of the findings state.
“This system, in the context of neurodegenerative diseases, might offset the symptoms. So, when something does not work properly as a result of the disease, the brain has efficient alternative systems to solve it thanks to being bilingual.”
“These results are discussed in the context of cognitive reserve hypotheses, suggesting that compensatory mechanisms may play a role in protecting against cognitive decline,” the authors determined.