Speaking Two Languages Improves Brain Function Late in Life



A new study shows that speaking at least two languages improves brain function later in life.


 

 

 

SPEAKING TWO LANGUAGES IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTION LATE IN LIFE

Although there are an estimated 6,000 distinct languages spoken on the planet, only about 1 in 4 countries officially identify themselves as bilingual or multilingual nations.  However, there are more people in the world who speak at least two languages than there are people who speak only one language.  Therefore, the majority of humankind can be thought of as generally being bilingual or multilingual.

Based upon previously published cognitive studies, being bilingual or multilingual appears to “strengthen” the areas of the brain that are involved in both language processing and other higher cognitive functions.  Indeed, based upon these prior studies, lifelong multilingual people appear to experience a later onset of cognitive decline in life, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to monolingual people.  Now, a newly published research study, which appears in the Journal of Neuroscience, provides fascinating new insights into exactly how bilingualism and multilingualism may help to preserve cognitive function in the brain as we age.

In this study, 110 older monolingual and bilingual adults participated in several “task-switching” exercises that test cognitive function.  Using a sophisticated imaging system that measures blood flow within specific areas of the brain (functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI), these monolingual and bilingual study volunteers were put through their paces with various task-switching exercises while their brain function was monitored by fMRI.

Among the monolingual older adults, areas of the brain associated with the processing of information, and with decision-making, were highly activated during task-switching exercises, indicating that these areas of the brain were working very hard to complete the tasks assigned by the researchers.  The bilingual older adults also experienced increased activity in the left lateral frontal cortex and cingulate cortex, but significantly less so than the monolingual study volunteers.  At the same time, the bilingual volunteers consistently outperformed their monolingual fellow volunteers on the task-switching exercises, despite lower levels of activation of these two key areas of the brain.  Thus, just as has been predicted by previous cognitive testing studies, lifelong bilingualism does indeed appear to increase the efficiency of the areas of the brain that are involved in high-level cognitive processing, and also appear to decrease the rate of loss of these cognitive abilities with advancing age, when compared to monolingualism.  In this clinical study, the bilingual older adults were more successful in completing task-switching cognitive exercises than monolingual older adults; and at the same time, the brains of the bilingual adults accomplished this improved cognitive performance with less effort than their monolingual counterparts (based upon fMRI measurements of brain activity).

While there are many potential personal, professional, social and cultural benefits to speaking more than one language, this elegant clinical research study confirms earlier predictions that lifelong bilingualism and multilingualism may help to preserve the cognitive efficiency and function of the higher processing centers of the brain much later in life.  Given at least the perception that the United States lags behind many other countries in the world in the area of foreign language education, the findings of this new study offer yet another reason for schools in the US to ramp up their foreign language programs.  We live in an increasingly competitive, globalized and multilingual world, and preparing our children for a successful future in that world should include early and continuous exposure to foreign language training, in my view.

 

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Dr. Wascher’s latest video:

Dark as Night, Part 1


Dark as Night, Part 1

Dark as Night, Part 1


At this time, more than 8 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.


For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  Over the past 12 months, more than 2.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious readers.  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 


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Vitamin D Reduces Risk of Cognitive Decline & Dementia

 

Welcome to Weekly Health Update


“A critical weekly review of important new research findings for health-conscious readers”


VITAMIN D REDUCES RISK OF COGNITIVE DECLINE & DEMENTIA

Regular readers of this column are already well aware of the preventive effects of Vitamin D with respect to falls in the elderly, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease.  (My new book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” which is scheduled to be published in August, 2010, contains an exciting and comprehensive update on the role of Vitamin D in cancer prevention.)  Now, a newly published research study, which appears in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, has linked low Vitamin D levels in the blood with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in adults over the age of 65.

A total of 858 adults at or over the age of 65 participated in this prospective public health study, which was conducted over a period of 7 years.  All of these study volunteers underwent extensive evaluation of their cognitive function, using validated, standardized tests, when they entered into the study.  All patients also underwent testing of their blood for Vitamin D levels.  This extensive evaluation and testing was then repeated every 3 years during the course of this important clinical research study.

The results of this study indicated that patient volunteers with low Vitamin D levels in the blood (less than 25 nmol/liter), when compared with volunteers with normal blood levels of Vitamin D (75 nmol/liter, or higher), experienced significant declines in their intellectual function over the course of this study.  Indeed, the patient volunteers with decreased Vitamin D levels in their blood were as much as 60 percent more likely to experience progressive cognitive decline or dementia over the relatively brief duration of this study, when compared with the patients who had normal levels of Vitamin D in their blood! 

The results of this study are very similar to the findings of a similar study, which has just been published in the journal Neurology.  In this particular study, an inadequate level of Vitamin D in the blood of elderly men and women was associated with a significantly increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia from all causes, including Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.  Moreover, abnormalities of the brain, as detected by MRI scans, were also more commonly observed in patients who were deficient in Vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency is very common in older men and women.  An estimated 80 percent of people over the age of 65 have inadequate levels of Vitamin D in their blood, while as many as 45 percent of older men and women also have severe Vitamin D deficiency.

 

The results of these two studies strongly suggest that adequate levels of Vitamin D in the blood may be associated with a significantly reduced risk of aging-associated cognitive decline and dementia in older men and women, in addition to improving muscle strength, decreasing the risk of certain cancers, and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

 

Not everyone should take large doses of Vitamin D, however, as the unmonitored use of this potent hormone-like vitamin can cause dangerous elevations in the level of calcium in the blood, as well as calcifications in the soft tissues of the body, kidney failure, pancreatitis, and gastrointestinal ulcers.  (Prior to starting Vitamin D supplements, you should certainly discuss the risks and benefits of Vitamin D supplementation with your physician.)

 

To learn more about the critical role of Vitamin D and the risk of cancer, look for the publication of my new landmark book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” in the August of this year. 



Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, a professor of surgery, a cancer researcher, an oncology consultant, and a widely published author


For a different perspective on Dr. Wascher, please click on the following YouTube link: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Tdv7XW0qg



I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 new and returning readers who visit our premier global health information website every month.  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.



 

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