Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Speaking Two Languages Deters Dementia by Nearly 5 Years, Scotland Study Shows

By Pat Rarus

¿como estás?
comment allez-vous?
wie geht es dir?
kamusta ka?

If you can speak just one other language besides English, your chances of delaying or perhaps never getting dementia are greatly enhanced. Those are the results of a recent study by the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. As a plus, it doesn’t even matter how fluent you are or how authentic your accent is.

Tracy Miller, a reporter for the New York Daily News, wrote about the Scottish study last November. From the article:

“Those who speak more than one language may enjoy built-in protection against the devastating effects of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.
People who were bilingual or multilingual developed dementia an average of 4.5 years later than those who spoke only one language, researchers wrote in the journal Neurology.

Dementia refers to symptoms such as memory and attention loss, communication difficulty, and decreased visual perception that result from damage to brain cells. Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, is the fifth leading cause of death for Americans over 65 and is thought to affect 5.2 million people.

This study is the largest to examine the effects of bilingualism on dementia and the first to demonstrate the effects not just for Alzheimer’s but other types of dementia, including vascular and frontotemporal, study author Dr. Thomas Bak of Scotland’s University of Edinburgh told the Daily News.”

The abstract of the study is available here.

Monica Garcia, 57, an Oceanside counselor, learned to speak Spanish in her early 20s out of necessity. Monica, whose maiden name is Voge, married her husband, Victor—a Mexican native—back in 1977. Although Victor learned English as a teenager, his brothers and sisters could only speak Spanish. When various relatives came to live with Monica and Victor—some for a few months; others for a couple of years−Monica needed to communicate with them in their native language. That’s how she learned Spanish.

“I took it in high school for three years,” she recalled, “but then I never used it. In school you learn a lot about Spanish grammar, tenses and other formal parts of the language. When the relatives lived with us, though, I learned phrases the natural way, like the way children learn a language—by osmosis. Of course,” she added, “Victor helped a lot as well.” In addition, Monica watched Spanish-language TV shows and movies.

Today, she is as fluent as a Mexican national and her memory skills are formidable —in both English and Spanish. Monica recently took a memory test that ranked her in the 88th percentile of people in her age group. Even more impressive are her scholastic achievements. At age 53, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude from California State University San Marcos. “All that studying really involved a lot of memory work,” she said with a smile.

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