Gold: bilingualism reduces Alzheimer’s risk

By Morgan Eads

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A UK researcher is receiving nationwide attention for his study on the effects of lifelong bilingualism on the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Brian Gold, a cognitive neuroscientist in the department of Anatomy and Neurobiology affiliated with the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and a team of researchers found bilingualism can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.

“There is evidence that being bilingual from an early age affects cognitive control,” Gold said. “As you get older the ability to switch between tasks declines, but there is evidence that bilingual people don’t decline as much.”

Gold’s study has been covered by news programs of ABC and NBC as well as being featured in reports by Fox News and the Today Show.

So far, the study has only found evidence that people who have been bilingual since early childhood and who use both languages everyday reap the cognitive benefit, Gold said.

When asked if people who pick up a second language during adulthood would lower their risks of Alzheimer’s, Gold said the answer was unclear.

“If you keep it up it might, it’s really unknown,” Gold said. “It won’t hurt.”

Gold went on to say he would be interested in researching further the benefits adults could gain from picking up a second language.

He also expressed he would like to look further into lifelong bilinguals who use one of the two languages with less frequency.

“We would like to understand if you do it less frequently, if you speak two languages, but not every day, does that help you?” he said.

French TA Perrine de Seze said this conclusion does not surprise her at all.

“When I first moved here I would get headaches,” Seze said. “Everyone was speaking English all the time.” Seze went on to say that as someone who is bilingual she could definitely see the

difficulty of switching between the two languages.

Psychology professor Gregory Smith said the study was interesting and he would like to look further into it.

“Kids raised bilingual have different experiences,” Smith said. “I’d be interested to see if it is the language training or other aspects.”

The unique thing about this study was the fact researchers used MRI technology to image the brain while participants switched between tasks, Gold said.

Researchers studied how bilingual people, both young and old, compared to monolingual people of both age groups in a series of activities.

These activities included switching between identifying different colors and identifying different shapes.

The bilingual participants of both age groups performed better than the monolingual participants.

“How this all looks in the brain is important as well,” Gold said. “What is the brain basis of this? What’s going in brain?”

The MRI imaging will help it be understood what exactly can be gained from bilingualism and how it helps prevent Alzheimer’s, Gold said.

“It is important to understand that this can help seniors age more gracefully,” Gold said.