Very interesting interview of cognitive neuroscientist, Ellen Bialystok, at The NY Times. She has studied groups of both monolingual and bilingual people and come to the conclusion that there are more benefits to speaking two languages (or more) than just being able to order another beer in a foreign country.
She discovered that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can be delayed by years by those who regularly speak more than one language (of 400+ Alzheimer’s patients studied, the average delay was 5-6 years). She points out that it’s not that the bilingual folks didn’t have the disease, but that they were able to function at a higher level for longer; they were able to cope better.
This reminds me of a book I recently read called The Brain That Changes Itself, which focuses on neuroplasticity (our brain’s ability to adapt and “re-wire” even in adulthood). In the book he talks about the importance of keeping the brain active throughout our life, especially as we age, to fend off brain dysfunctions. Reading, doing puzzles, engaging the brain actively.
To read more about these studies, click here.