A new study suggests that bilingualism can help maintain memory in older adulthood.
In the study “Linking early-life bilingualism and cognitive advantage in older adulthood,” researchers in Germany found that bilingualism may act as a protective factor against dementia.
The researchers studied 746 people aged 59 to 76, with about 60% of them being patients at memory clinics who had experienced confusion or memory loss.
The participants were tested on numerous memory tasks, including recalling objects, spelling backwards and copying designs. Bilingual participants who used a second language daily between ages 13 and 30 or between ages 30 and 65 scored higher on language, memory, focus, attention and decision-making abilities as compared with those who only spoke one language.
“Overall, our study contributes to the growing body of literature supporting the protective role of bilingualism in maintaining cognitive performance in older adulthood. As such, bilingualism may act as protective factor against cognitive decline and dementia,” the researchers concluded.
As many scientists have been studying bilingualism and the brain, research findings have varied.
Some researchers have found that bilingual people may develop dementia at a later age than monolingual people. Other studies have otherwise shown that there is no clear benefit from bilingualism.
According to The New York Times, some experts believe that the results of the recent study might have been different if the participants were asked if they had spoken a second language less frequently rather than every day.
Boon Lead Tee, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, noted that the positive effects of bilingualism on cognition might have also been caused by another factor, such as the age at which both languages were encoded into the participants’ memories or the demographic or life experiences of the participants.