For Protection Against Alzheimer’s and Dementia…Learn Another Language!

By Christina Hellendoorn-Cothren

Many people today are dealing with more and more serious health conditions at home…at least for longer periods of time before other care is sought after. One of these conditions is Ahzheimer’s. A chronic and heart-breaking disease, it strikes many families in the core.

Most often the afflicted person’s long term memories remain intact longest…and recent memories pass by as if not even noticed just moments before… Recognition of loved ones comes and goes…and eventually disappears altogether. For this disease, though studied for some time now, a cure remains elusive. The utter sadness of not being recognized by one’s close family member, so often a mother, cannot truly be understood until experienced. Often the person with Alzheimer’s is otherwise in good, even excellent health…so many remain at home. Also, being in familiar surroundings slows down symptoms of the developing memory losses…everyday routines remain implanted in long term memory while novel circumstances and information that happens while engaged in such familiar routines escapes recognition just moments later.

There are some advances however. Interestingly, during the past few years studies have confirmed what might come as no surprise to some…learning another language correlates with protection against Alzheimer’s and Dementia during the later years in life! Studies demonstrate correlations that people who have what is referred to as a “cognitive reserve” measured through “idea density” ward off the detrimental effects of these conditions/diseases (Phend, 2009). Reviews of several articles addressing these studies inform this article (Phend, 2009; Rogers, 2007; Sharples, 2009). Results include information that could help the elderly at risk for Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia. Their families and those at risk themselves would be interested to know that:

• People who possess complex language skills early in life may well safeguard later cognitive/memory deterioration;

• Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging shows that 21% of those people studied, regardless of noted placques and lesions in brain tissues, have intact cognitive functioning;

• People with “more cognitive ability and more neural tissue to start with-sharper minds broadly-may be better able to withstand the ravages of age” (Sharples, 2009);
• Both males and females were represented in the studies;<br.
• That a Canadian study published in the journal Neuropsychologie “…shows bilingualism has protective effects in delaying onset of dementia by four years” even after variables such as cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and gender are considered (Rogers, 2007).<br.
Further, the Canadian study mentioned above urged Dr. Morris Freeman, head of the Division of Neurology and director of a prominent memory clinic, to state that “…there are no pharmacological interventions that are this dramatic.”

Reviewing the articles listed in the reference section will surely proved inspiring…learning another language is not only a wonderful way to enter another culture, an exciting endeavor for most; such learning seems a healthy choice for maximizing cognitive functioning throughout the life span! Not only will family members want to learn more about these findings, folks might well want to begin studying another language together. This learning experience will not only bring the excitement of new cultural experiences and conversation, it will likely include the health benefits of being able to have meaningful family relationships longer!

Christina Hellendoorn-Cothren teacher Dutch through the Language Learning Institute. A native of the Netherlands, she has lived in the US since age 12 and is trained/works as a School Psychologist.

Phend, C. (2009.) Early language abilities may protect memory decades later-Language skills
may ward off Alzheimer’s, Dementia. Med Page Today.
Rogers, A. (2007.) Language, Brains, and Alzheimers. Wired Science.
Sharples, T. (2009). Can language skills ward off Alzheimer’s? A nuns’ study. Time.,8599,1909420,00.html

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