Speaking two languages is good for your health. It helps to combat Alzheimer’s and, more generally, diseases related to cognitive impairment. Researchers at Concordia University are convinced of this and have made it known in a study published in Neuropsychology. Scholars used complete high-resolution MRI data and sophisticated analysis techniques to measure cortex thickness and tissue density within specific areas of the brain. The sample included 94 people, half monolingual and half bilingual. We comment on the results of this research together with Dr. Lara Fratticci, neurologist at Humanitas and Dr. Elisabetta Menna, researcher at Humanitas and the Institute of Neuroscience at CNR.
Polyglots have more “grey matter”
According to the researchers, in polyglots there is a correlation between the cortical thickness of those brain regions dedicated to language and cognitive control and the performance of tasks of episodic memory. Scholars have in fact related the increase in grey matter in these regions with greater cognitive ability, arguing that speaking two languages could improve the functioning of memory and delay the cognitive effects of atrophy related to diseases.
“Our results contribute to research that indicates that speaking more than one language is one of the factors in lifestyle that contributes most to the cognitive area – said Natalie Phillips, professor at the Department of Psychology at the Canadian University. We therefore support the idea that multilingualism and its cognitive and socio-cultural benefits are associated with brain plasticity.
Bilingualism, an extra shield against strokes
Learning two languages makes our brains brighter and more “resistant”. While the benefits of bilingualism on cognitive performance have long been known, now several research centers, including the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad (India), has added an additional piece: bilingualism protects from the damage of a stroke. People who speak at least two languages are twice as likely to recover their cognitive abilities after a stroke as monolinguals. The study, published in Stroke, was conducted on 608 patients suffering from ischemic stroke. More than half of them were bilingual. Among these, 40% of patients had a normal recovery of cognitive functions compared to 20% of monolinguals. Aphasia, on the other hand, affected us indiscriminately: bilingualism did not act as a shield against this speech disorder caused by brain damage.