Working on word puzzles such as word searches and crosswords, as well as enjoying puzzles like the popular Sudoku, have long since been linked with keeping the brain cells alive and firing on all pistons for longer (as has eating fish, munching on apples and some say enjoying repetitive routines). While there are some truths to these claims, the latest research indicates that learning a second language could be the answer to keeping brain function sharp and reducing the brain ageing process.
A University of Edinburgh study of 262 people indicated that participants aged either eleven years old or in their seventies demonstrated heightened performance in intelligence, reading skills and native-language fluency having taken on a second language.
A study undertaken previously claimed that learning one or more additional languages could potentially stave off the onset of dementia by several years, a significant result for those with a family history of dementia or concerns about their memory failing later in life.
The main question this recent study was set up to answer was whether those with more advanced cognitive abilities were more likely to become bilingual, or whether becoming bilingual served to improve cognitive abilities.
Dr Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology based at Edinburgh University, who ran the study between 2008 and 2010, reports that of the 262 participants, 195 learned a second language before they were eighteen years old and 65 learned it after the age of eighteen. What is paramount here is that the research showed that it didn’t matter at what age the participants learned a second language, simply that the improved cognitive results were the same.
While the study itself does not prove that those who are bilingual will definitely not suffer from dementia, or that the cognitive abilities of all people who speak two languages will without a doubt be improved, the research is still significant. Dr Bak has hailed the study results as “meaningful” and Dr A Pascual-Leone of the Harvard Medical School, a renowned professor of medicine, has stated: “The epidemiological study provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the ageing brain. This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”
In basic terms, this study has opened the doors to the possibility of a link between how learning one, or perhaps more, languages could someday, alone or in collaboration with a number of other neurological exercises, prove significantly beneficial to many.
There are many excellent reasons to learn a second language and it appears that another to be added to the growing list is that it will quite possibly improve your memory and stave off dementia.