Research carried out in India and published on Wednesday in the journal Neurology has shown a correlation between bilingualism and delayed dementia symptoms. The results of the study have shown that, in people who can speak more than one language, dementia develops several years later than in monolinguals, even in the case of people who have no formal education and cannot read or write. This proves that the effects of bilingualism on dementia are not particularly related to other social situations such as social class or level of education.
The study was carried out using a corpus of 648 cases of people with dementia in the city of Hyderabad in India, where the majority of the population is bilingual. Telugu, Urdu and English are used constantly, some at home and others at work or school. Because language switching is so common in India, it is not restricted to a specific social class, making the comparison between literate and illiterate individuals possible. It also means that monolingual and bilingual citizens can be compared within the same cultural frame, as all of the cases are from individuals from the same city.
Consequences of Bilingualism on Brain Activity
Researchers have stated that switching from one language to another activates the brain and forces it to work in a comprehensive way, stimulating it. Mental activity has proven to delay symptoms and protect the brain from the degenerative consequences of dementia by switching between sound, grammar and lexical systems. The reason behind this is that language influences the cognitive reserve, which is the brain’s ability to function normally even in spite of significant brain injuries. In that way, the consequences of dementia are less evident in those with a greater reserve capacity, as the brain is able to function normally for longer periods of time.
Impact of the Research
Other factors that influence cognitive reserves are education, any activity related to thinking and occupation. The discovery that knowing more than one language is also directly related to the development of cognitive reserves highlights the importance of language learning. The study, then, points to another reason to foment language learning in schools and at home in different countries around the world.