Multilingualism Counteracts Brain Changes Caused by Alzheimer’s

  • Studies for the last ten years have shown that learning another language is good for the brain.
  • But, a new study went further by focusing the effects of bilingualism on patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
  • The Concordia study was the first to validate a link between language and cognition control regions of the brain and their memory function, as well as the first to control for immigration status in these brain regions.

Natalie Phillips, a professor in the Department of Psychology and founding director of Concordia’s Cognition, Aging and Psychophysiology (CAP) Lab., explains that most of the previous research was conducted on healthy adults.

Phillips adds, “Our new study contributes to the hypothesis that having two languages exercises specific brain regions and can increase cortical thickness and grey matter density. And it extends these findings by demonstrating that these structural differences can be seen in the brains of multilingual AD and MCI patients.”

Published in Neuropsychologia in January 2018, the study was led by recent Concordia psychology graduate Hilary D. Duncan (Ph.D. 17).

New methods such as high-resolution, whole-brain MRI data and sophisticated analysis techniques were used to measure cortical thickness and tissue density within specific brain areas.

Phillips points out, “Previous studies used CT scans, which are a much less sensitive measure.”

The team investigated language and cognition control areas in the frontal regions of the brain, specifically the medial temporal lobe structures important for memory, which are the brain areas known to atrophy in MCI and AD patients.

MRIs were conducted on participating patients from the Jewish General Hospital Memory Clinic in Montreal, who consisted of 34 monolingual MCI patients, 34 multilingual MCI patients, 13 monolingual AD patients and 13 multilingual AD patients.

Phillips’ team is believed to be the first to assess the structure of MCI and AD patients’ language and cognition control regions.

She adds, “Our results contribute to research that indicates that speaking more than one language is one of a number of lifestyle factors that contributes to cognitive reserve. They support the notion that multilingualism and its associated cognitive and sociocultural benefits are associated with brain plasticity.”

Phillips’ team are currently doing additional research to support their findings.

She says, “Our study seems to suggest that multilingual people are able to compensate for AD-related tissue loss by accessing alternative networks or other brain regions for memory processing. We’re actively investigating that hypothesis now.”

Source: Medical Xpress


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