Bilingualism Appears to Protect the Brain from Alzheimer’s Symptoms, Study Says

Bilingualism Appears to Protect the Brain from Alzheimer’s Symptoms, Study Says
Speaking more than one language appears to help the brain resist the effects of Alzheimer's disease (AD), according to a study by Italy's Vita-Salute San Rafffaele University in Milan. The study, “The impact of bilingualism on brain reserve and metabolic connectivity in Alzheimer's dementia,” appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Recent studies indicate that lifelong bilingualism may delay dementia onset; however, until now, the underlying neural mechanism of these protective effects was unclear. Psychology professor Daniela Perani and her colleagues studied CT scans of 85 older patients with Alzheimer's; 45 spoke both German and Italian and 40 spoke only one of the two languages. Those who were bilingual outperformed single-language speakers in short- and long-term memory tasks, scoring on average three to eight times higher — even though their scans showed more severe deterioration in brain metabolism. Decreased brain metabolism, also known as cerebral hypometabolism, is a feature of AD, in which the brain becomes less efficient at converting glucose into energy. Notably, the researchers found that bilingual individuals were on average five years older than their monolingual peers. The researchers also found that the more bilingual people switched from one language to another during their lifetimes, the more their brains were prepared to alternate pathways that maintained thinking skills even as Alzheimer's damage accumulated. The brain scans also provided a clue why this might be. Perani said that those who spoke more than one language had better functional connectivity in frontal bra
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