Bilingualism and Dementia

I’ve noted pre­vi­ously how child bilin­gual­ism improves the “exec­ut­ive func­tions” and a recent study has cor­rob­or­ated these find­ings while also dis­cov­er­ing how bilin­gual­ism can stave off demen­tia in old age:

[Psy­cho­lo­gist Ellen Bailys­tok] wanted to explore wheth­er enhanced exec­ut­ive con­trol actu­ally has a pro­tect­ive effect in men­tal aging—specifically, wheth­er bilin­gual­ism con­trib­utes to the “cog­nit­ive reserve” that comes from stim­u­lat­ing social, men­tal and phys­ic­al activ­ity. She stud­ied a large group of men and women with demen­tia, and com­pared the onset of their first symp­toms. The age of onset for demen­tia was a full four years later in bilin­guals than in patients who had lived their lives speak­ing just one lan­guage. That’s a whop­ping dif­fer­ence. Delay­ing demen­tia four years is more than any known drug can do, and could rep­res­ent a huge sav­ings in health care costs.

Is there any down­side to bilin­gual­ism? Yes. […] Bia­lys­tok’s stud­ies also found that bilin­guals have less lin­guist­ic pro­fi­ciency in either of their two lan­guages than do those who only speak that lan­guage. They have some­what smal­ler vocab­u­lar­ies, for example, and aren’t as rap­id at retriev­ing word mean­ings. But com­pared to the dra­mat­ic cog­nit­ive advant­ages of learn­ing a second lan­guage, that seems a small price to pay.

via @siibo