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Bilingualism Keeps Dementia Away, Study

Update Date: Nov 06, 2013 05:07 PM EST

Speaking a second language may help keep dementia away, a new study suggests.

New research reveals that bilinguals developed dementia four and a half years later than monolinguals.

"Our study is the first to report an advantage of speaking two languages in people who are unable to read, suggesting that a person's level of education is not a sufficient explanation for this difference," study author Suvarna Alladi, DM, with Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, said in a news release. "Speaking more than one language is thought to lead to better development of the areas of the brain that handle executive functions and attention tasks, which may help protect from the onset of dementia."

The latest study involved 648 people with an average age of 66 who were diagnosed with dementia. Of all the participants, 391 spoke two or more languages. Researchers noted that 14 percent of all participants were illiterate.

Study results revealed that 240 had Alzheimer's disease, 189 had vascular dementia, 116 had frontotemporal dementia and 103 had dementia with Lewy bodies and mixed dementia.

The findings revealed that people who spoke two languages had a later onset of Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia than people who spoke only one language. This effect was also seen in those who could not read.

Researcher found no additional benefit in speaking more than two languages, and the findings held true even after accounting for other factors such as education, gender, occupation and whether participants lived in the city or country.

"These results offer strong evidence for the protective effect of bilingualism against dementia in a population very different from those studied so far in terms of its ethnicity, culture and patterns of language use," Alladi said.

The findings are published in the journal Neurology

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