May Postpone Dementia
is a catch-all term for any neurological disorder which leads to the
degradation of cognitive faculties. These disorders may have
different root causes, but they all lead to the same series of
symptoms, resulting from neurological damage to brain cells:
Loss of Communications Skills
Loss of Memory
Attention Span Issues
Decline in Visual Perception
forms of Dementia, Alzheimer's is the most common, affecting more
than 5 million people. Alzheimer's disease is one of the leading
causes of death for men and women over the age of 65, with only four
causes of death more common.
a new study was released in Neuropsychologia regarding the connection
between multilingualism and Dementia risk. This study was performed
by researchers from the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, a
clinical facility in Toronto, specializing in research and care for
the elderly. The division of the Baycrest Centre responsible for this
research was the Rotman Research Institute, and the head of the
research team was Doctor Ellen Bialystok.
study, Dr. Bialystok and her team gathered a group of 184 recruits
from the immediate vicinity of Toronto. All of the participants
recruited were suffering from Dementia, and the researchers were
concerned with both the age at which psychological deterioration
began to occur and the number of languages that the participants
could speak. They found that individuals that knew more than one
language fluently lived four years longer before experiencing
symptoms than their mono-lingual counterparts.
of Bilingualism on Dementia Symptoms
particular study, women that only spoke one language started to show
signs of Dementia at an average age of 71.9. Men showed symptoms
slightly earlier, at the average age of 70.8. Men and women that knew
more than one language, on the other hand, took longer to become
symptomatic. Women that were multilingual started to show signs of
Dementia at an average age of 75.1, and men started to show signs at
an average age of 76.1.
average when only taking age into account was 4.1 years. The results
of this study were statistically significant, providing evidence that
multilingual individuals took longer to develop Dementia's symptoms
Bialystok explains that she hypothesized that multilingualism would
have a positive impact on neurological health with regard to
Dementia, but she was surprised that the difference was so
significant. She says that when she first saw the results of the
study, she was absolutely floored, because the hypothesis was so
Benefit of Bilingualism and Multilingualism
the results, Dr. Bialystok further hypothesizes that the neurological
benefit of multilingualism seems to stem from understanding how to
speak and communicate in multiple language, and is not related to
other factors associated with communication, such as proper grammar
or the way that the language was learned. In order to experience the
neurological benefit, you simply have to know two language systems
Benefits Solely the Result of Knowing More than One Language
prior research and the results of this particular study, the research
team came to the conclusion that the neurological benefits of
multilingualism are not the result of other potential related
factors, such as immigration history, cultural inheritance,
occupation, or education level. In fact, in this particular set of
participants, the individuals that spoke a single language tended to
be the most highly educated, but this did not seem to impact the
significance of the results.
Importance of this Dementia Study
member of the research team, Fergus Craik, explains that this study
is important because it highlights how particular lifestyle
circumstances can impact cognitive and neurological health later in
the lifespan. Although there is no evidence that multilingualism has
the ability to prevent Alzheimer's and Dementia, it clearly defers
the onset of symptoms, which gives patients the opportunity to enjoy
a few more years in good neurological health.
Study Examines Indian Dementia Patients
In a second, similar study, individuals that speak multiple languages
have also been shown to first display symptoms of Dementia and
Alzheimer's later in life. The results of this study were similar to
the results of the Canadian study. In this study, patients lived
slightly longer before experiencing Dementia symptoms, an average of
4.5 years longer.
This study was released in the academic journal, Neurology. The lead
researcher and author of the study was Doctor Thoman Bak, and the
study was financed by the University of Edinburgh.
This study, thus far, is the largest ever performed in order to
assess the effects of multilingualism upon Dementia. Many previous
studies focused primarily on Alzheimer's disease, but the authors
hypothesized that the benefits of multilingualism would also apply to
any elderly patient suffering from Dementia, even Frontotemporal and
Requirements for Multilingualism are Significant
explains that people that are multilingual use their brains in a
unique way that is unlike individuals that only speak one language.
It takes a significant amount of psychic energy to seamlessly be able
to choose and speak a particular language when you have multiple
languages at your disposal. It relies on the brains ability to be
able to accurately choose the right language for the circumstances,
while also suppressing the brain's ability to communicate in the
special skill gives the brain a unique form of exercise that is not
easily replicated through other means, if it can be replicated at
all. Knowing two or more languages gives certain locations in the
brain a lot of extra stimulation that simply isn't afforded to people
that only speak one language.
of the research piece is “Bilingualism Delays Age at Onset of
Dementia, Independent of Education and Immigration Status.”
Although this study was performed under the guidance and stewardship
of the University of Edinburgh, the patients were from a location far
from Ireland, in Hyderabad, India.
is a fantastic location for studying the impact of multilingualism,
because Hyderabad is a multicultural hotspot in which multiple
languages are all active in the same area, and most residents of the
city speak multiple languages, no matter how educated they are or
what class they were brought up in.
evaluated 648 subjects from Hyderabad that all suffered from
Dementia. The average age of the patients was 62.2 years, and a bit
more than half of the patients were multilingual.
researchers in this study found similar results to the Canadian
study: Individuals that were multilingual took 4.5 years longer to
develop Dementia than their monolingual counterparts. This 4.5 year
span persisted even when taking into account education level. Even
participants that never received a day of formal education
experienced the benefits of multilingualism.
to assess when patients started to experience signs and symptoms of
Dementia, the researchers talked to caretakers and family members,
asking them when the subjects started to show signs of degradation.
For patients that only spoke one language, symptoms began to appear
at 61.1 years of age. For patients that spoke multiple languages,
symptoms did not appear until 65.6 years of age.
is a Cultural Melting Pot
reason why Hyderabad was selected as an ideal location to perform
this study was because the multicultural aspect of the city is not
the result of immigration, but the result of a genuine
multiculturalism that has persisted over time. In most studies that
had been previously performed, the majority of the participants were
immigrants that learned another language as a result of moving to a
new location. As a result of this, it was difficult to account for
variables such as lifestyle, diet, and ethnicity.
majority of the participants of this study were hereditary members of
Hyderabad, with lineages that go back for generations. Some of the
most common languages in the city are Dakkhini, Telugu, and Hindi.
provides definitive proof that the protection against Dementia
afforded to multilingual patients is not the result of extenuating
factors but definitively as a result of knowing more than one
More than Two Languages No Better than Only Knowing Two
enough, the benefits provided by being multilingual were no greater
than being bilingual. Simply being able to communicate in two or more
languages is enough to experience maximum benefit. Another important
point is that it is not important to be fluent in multiple languages,
but simply to be able to communicate with others effectively.
provides a unique way to look at and understand the effects of
multilingualism in the rawest sense. In many countries, especially in
the West, second languages are taught rather than simply learned. In
India, there are so many dominant languages in a small area, that it
is very easy to learn two or more languages passively in one's
Not a Factor in Dementia Benefits
of the participants in the study were completely illiterate, but the
benefits of multilingualism were just as strong among those in this
group as those that were highly educated. Multilingualism is not the
result of class or education or any other lifestyle factor. The
benefits are purely the result of the unique mental exercise that
comes with knowing and understanding more than one language.
Multiple Languages is Like Swimming
researcher compared multilingualism to the act of swimming. Although
many other physical activities are good for the health, swimming
simultaneously works every muscle in the body. The same seems to be
true of bilingualism and the mind. There's just so much involved. You
have to recognize and interpret two entirely different language
systems. You also have to understand the subtle cues and social norms
that are at play simply in speaking a second language.
Increases the Risk of Alzheimer's Among Women
study provides evidence that stress not only negatively impacts
cardiovascular health, but also increases the risk of experiencing
Alzheimer's disease. One group that seems to be particularly at risk
is middle-aged women. At this point, there is no causal evidence
regarding why, but there is a definite positive correlation between
mid-life stress and Alzheimer's Disease among female patients.
was developed at Swedish Gothenburg University by Lena Johansson, a
member of the University's Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology.
There is a
definitely link between stress and Alzheimer's as proven by Dr.
Johansson's study, but there have yet to be studies which have sought
to show exactly how strong mid-life stress is as a predictor of
Alzheimer's risk, especially in comparison to other influences such
as high blood pressure, smoking, diet, and poverty. All of these
factors were controlled for in this study, but future studies will
have to compare the relative impact of all of these different risks
on general health.
Results of this Alzheimer's Study Also Apply to Men
study only examined middle-aged women, but there is no evidence that
the results would be any different for men. There are certain aspects
of Alzheimer's and Dementia risk that are correlated with gender, but
most risk factors have similar impacts on core risk based
specifically upon gender.
The results of this study have been derived from a larger
multipurpose study that began in 1968. At the time this study began,
all of the women were 38 years or older. Among these participants,
eight hundred were regularly evaluated with regard to psychological
health and well-being a minimum of once every ten years until 2005.
and her research partners evaluated the data with regard to eighteen
life-events that tend to have a negative impact on well-being,
including widowhood, divorce, and family illness, and how individual
subjects responded to these life events.
addition to compiling data related to stress, they also collected
data regarding psychiatric evaluation and hospital records in order
to determine which patients eventually developed Dementia. By the
final year of the study, 153 of the 800 women experienced Dementia,
and 104 of those cases were Alzheimer's Disease.
and Dementia are Correlated
found a strong correlation between mid-life stress and Dementia. For
every stress factor that the participants were experiencing in 1968,
the potential for experiencing Alzheimer's disease by the end of the
study increased by around twenty percent.
also a strong correlation found between extended bouts of distress
and increased risk of Alzheimer's, without regard to the number of
individual stressful events experienced.
Evidence that Stress Directly Causes Alzheimer's
does not show that stress directly causes Alzheimer's, but that it
simply increases the risk of experiencing the condition. There is a
significant chance that stress only heightens the impact of other
factors, such as high blood pressure, and does not directly cause
Alzheimer's in a vacuum.
of this lack of direct correlation, there are still many that are
incredibly optimistic with regard to the results of this study. A
representative of the Rush University Medical Center, Robert S.
Wilson, explains that this study is the strongest evidence thus far
connecting psychological stress with Dementia and Alzheimer's. It
will take more research to further illuminate that link, but the
correlation is definitively there.
with Stress to Delay Alzheimer's
responds to stress in their own personal way, but it appears that the
general pressures of stressful life events impact all people in a
similar way. There are numerous ways that chronic stress impacts
health, wellness, and longevity, even if the stress is relatively
minor. These stressors have the potential to affect any family, and
it shows the importance of managing stress effectively in order to
live a longer and healthier life.
doesn't mean that people that experience these life events should
fret too much, however. Stress is just one factor that contributes to
Dementia and Alzheimer's, and not everyone that experiences a lot of
stress goes on to develop these neurological conditions.
important thing is to recognize how forces in your life like stress
can affect your long-term health, and that there are efforts you can
take to minimize the effects and threat of chronic stress. In the
end, the contribution that stress has on Dementia is likely less than
other factors such as blood pressure and smoking.
is an Epidemic Disease among the Elderly Today
the prevalence of Alzheimer's, it is imperative that we understand
why Alzheimer's occurs and what can be done to mitigate the risk and
one day even perhaps cure the disease. The United States Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention estimate that by the age of eighty
five, almost fifty percent of men and women may be suffering from the
initial stages of Alzheimer's Disease.
affects both those that have Alzheimer's and those that love them. As
life expectancies continue to increase, Alzheimer's will start to
become more of a health hazard as more men and women live to an age
where the disease becomes more prevalent.
demonstrates just one of many reasons why stress reduction should be
a routine aspect of general healthcare, especially as men and women
grow older. Many people think of common stressors as inevitable life
events that one simply has to struggle through, but there is growing
evidence that life events can impact health years and decades down
the road, and techniques for stress reduction such as psychiatric
help, exercise, and talking about one's emotions will likely provide
significant psychiatric benefits further down the line.