The New York Times recently highlighted the advantages of being bilingual. Besides making travel and ordering international food easier, being bilingual may help wire the brain to retain cognitive functions and executive functions longer than those who speak only one language.
According to cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok, bilingualism may forestall the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In her research:
“We did two kinds of studies. In the first, published in 2004, we found that normally aging bilinguals had better cognitive functioning than normally aging monolinguals. Bilingual older adults performed better than monolingual older adults on executive control tasks. That was very impressive because it didn’t have to be that way. It could have turned out that everybody just lost function equally as they got older.
That evidence made us look at people who didn’t have normal cognitive function. In our next studies , we looked at the medical records of 400 Alzheimer’s patients. On average, the bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms five or six years later than those who spoke only one language. This didn’t mean that the bilinguals didn’t have Alzheimer’s. It meant that as the disease took root in their brains, they were able to continue functioning at a higher level. They could cope with the disease for longer.”
Read more research here:
Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia