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Speaking Two Languages Slows Down Brain Aging

Update Date: Jun 02, 2014 10:04 AM EDT

As people age, brain health starts to deteriorate. Based on several studies, researchers have found that certain factors, such as diet and physical activity levels, can contribute to the speed of aging. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of speaking multiple languages and found that the brains of people who are bilingual tend to age at a much slower rate. The team added that learning a new language later in life can also help slow down aging.

"Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence," study author Dr. Thomas Bak, from the Center for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said according to the HuffPost. "Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain."

For this study, the researcher recruited 835 Scottish people who were born in 1936. All of the participants spoke English as their first language. 262 of them spoke at least two languages with 195 of them learning the second language before the age of 18. The team administered a mental skills-intelligence test when the participants were 11-years-old and when they were in their early 70s.

The researchers used the results from the first test to predict the participants' performance levels in the second test. They found that bilingual participants performed a lot better than expected on the second mental skills test, particularly in the sections measuring general intelligence and reading. The team noted that the brain health benefits were noticeable in participants who learned a second language at a much older age as well.

"These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain," Dr. Bak said according to HealthDay.

The study, "Does Bilingualism Influence Cognitive Aging?" was published in the Annals of Neurology.

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