Being Bilingual Could Slash Your Risk of This Deadly Disease, Study Says

Speaking two languages cuts your chances of developing this debilitating illness in half.

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Being able to switch between two tongues makes it easier to travel, communicate directly with more people, and can be a fantastic foot-in-the-door for job opportunities. But science says that speaking two languages could have major benefits for your brain, as well. In fact, new research shows that being bilingual can slash your chances of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life, cutting your risk in half.

A team of researchers at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in Barcelona recruited 63 healthy individuals, 135 patients suffering from general cognitive decline, and 68 patients with Alzheimer's disease from four local hospitals for their study. After using a questionnaire to determine how bilingual each patient was, the researchers found that those who were more bilingual were exponentially less likely to experience memory loss or cognitive decline later in life. In fact, being proficient in two languages drastically reduced a person's chances of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Hello in many languages written with chalk on blackboard
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Interestingly, the researchers found that there were varying degrees of protection that being bilingual could have on the brain based on how much of a second language a patient spoke. "We saw that the people with a higher degree of bilingualism received a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment later than those who were passive bilinguals," Marco Calabria, PhD, researcher, professor at the UOC Faculty of Health Sciences, and member of UOC's Cognitive NeuroLab research group, said in a statement.

Calabria and his team concluded that the brain essentially rewires itself to allow two languages to exist simultaneously without mixing, which explains why being bilingual creates a kind of buffer for cognitive decline. "When something is not functioning well due to the disease, thanks to the fact that it is bilingual, the brain has efficient alternative systems for resolving the problem," Calabria said. He added that "we have seen that the more you use both languages and the better your language skills, the more neuroprotective advantage you have."

On top of that, Calabria added, "The prevalence of dementia in countries where more than one language is spoken is 50 percent lower than in those regions where the population uses only one language to communicate."

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Besides finding that Alzheimer's could be staved off by being bilingual, many other studies have also found that being able to speak more than one language can have profoundly positive effects on the brain at any phase of life. A 2012 study from the U.K. found that children who were bilingual were better with problem-solving skills than their monolingual peers. The study also found that bilingual children had a better understanding of a wider range of words and were stronger at solving arithmetic problems.

And to find out more about your likelihood of brain disease later in life, check out How Well You Do This One Thing Predicts Your Alzheimer's Risk, Study Says.

Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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