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Jun 02, 2014 11:40 AM EDT

Speaking Two Or More Languages May Improve Cognition, Delay The Onset Of Dementia

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Speaking two or more languages may slow down brain aging, according to a recent study Medical Daily reported.

Researchers found that being bilingual or speaking multiple languages, even those who acquired the second language in adulthood, will improve cognition and delay the onset of dementia.

"Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence," Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh said in a statement.

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, comprised of 835 native speakers of English who were born and living in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Participants of that study were given an intelligence test in 1947 at age 11 years and retested in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010. Two hundred and sixty two participants reported to be able to communicate in at least one language other than English. Of those, 195 learned the second language before age 18, 65 thereafter.

They found that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who acquired their second language early as well as late.

"The Lothian Birth Cohort offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language" Dr. Bak said. "These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life."

The researchers said their research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention and provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the aging brain.

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