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People who speak more than one language cope better with dementia

People who speak two or more languages cope better with the symptoms of dementia, new study results suggest. 
Italian_Multilingual-iStock.jpg

People who speak two or more languages cope better with the symptoms of dementia, new study results suggest.

Previous studies have reported that lifelong bilingualism may delay the onset of dementia, so researchers in Italy set out to determine the underlying neural mechanism of these protective effects.

They studied 85 people in Northern Italy who were all at similar stages of dementia due to probable Alzheimers disease; 45 spoke both German and Italian, and 40 spoke one language only.

Significant correlation

Brain scans were used to reveal how active different parts of the brain are and how well they are functionally connected to other brain regions.

Compared to monolinguals, the researchers found that bilinguals showed increased functional connections between areas of the brain involved

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People who speak two or more languages cope better with the symptoms of dementia, new study results suggest. 


The more bilinguals used their second language, the likelier they were to
prevent neurodegeneration. Picture: iStock

Previous studies have reported that lifelong bilingualism may delay the onset of dementia, so researchers in Italy set out to determine the underlying neural mechanism of these protective effects. 

They studied 85 people in Northern Italy who were all at similar stages of dementia due to probable Alzheimer’s disease; 45 spoke both German and Italian, and 40 spoke one language only. 

Significant correlation 

Brain scans were used to reveal how active different parts of the brain are and how well they are functionally connected to other brain regions. 

Compared to monolinguals, the researchers found that bilinguals showed increased functional connections between areas of the brain involved in executive control, and the extent to which they use their second language was significantly correlated to activity in key neural networks. 

‘These findings indicate that lifelong bilingualism acts as a powerful cognitive reserve proxy in dementia and exerts neuroprotective effects against neurodegeneration,’ the study authors said. 


Perani D et al (2017) The impact of bilingualism on brain reserve and metabolic connectivity in Alzheimer’s dementia. PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1610909114 

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