It turns out that being bilingual can do more than just beef up your résumé—it can decrease your likelihood of cognitive decline after a stroke. The findings have been published inthe American Heart Association journal Stroke.
Researchers from India examined the medical records of 608 ischemic stroke patients in the Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences’ registry between 2006 and 2013. Their goal was to determine whether or not bilingualism (defined in the study as having the ability to clearly speak two different languages) had any influence on post-stroke cognitive function.
After accounting for varying lifestyle factors—such as smoking habits, diabetes, high blood pressure, and age—the team discovered that there was, in fact, a stark difference in the cognitive outcomes of bilingual people vs. non-bilingual people after suffering a stroke.About 40% of patients who were bilingual experienced normal cognitive function afterward, whereas only 19.6% of those who only spoke one language had the same positive outcome after their stroke.
The bilingual patients also fared better in their ability to both recover and organize storedinformation. In addition to improved memory, they produced better results on tests to measure attention skills.
According to one of the study’s authors, the differences may have to do with the way language is processed in the brain. In order to be bilingual, a person must have the ability to switch between the two languages. In other words, their brains have to inhibit one of the languages in order to properly activate the other language to communicate. Previous research has shown that switching between languagesactivates a region in the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This region is associated with various cognitive skills, which might explain the findings of this latest study.
However, even the authors of this new study were surprised to find that there was no difference between monolinguals and bilinguals when it came to experiencing aphasia. Aphasia, which most commonly results from a stroke, is acommunication disorder caused by damage to the brain that impairs speech and affects an individual’s ability to properly write.
That being said, the study still demonstrates that there’s something to be said for bilingualism and its positive impact on cognitive function. Furthermore, the findings align with the results from earlier studies showing that lifelong bilingualism (as opposed to recently acquiring a new language) could possibly protect against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Keep in mind that if you’re only able to speak one language, it doesn’t mean you’re in trouble. As many experts have pointed out, mental stimulation in many forms can benefit cognitive health in the long-term.“Our study suggests that intellectually stimulating activities pursued over time, from a young age or even starting in mid-life, can protect you from the damage brought on by a stroke,” explained Subhash Kaul, the senior investigator who developed the stroke registry used for this study.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Alladi, S., et al., “Impact of Bilingualism on Cognitive Outcome After Stroke,” Stroke, 2015; doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.115.010418, http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2015/11/19/STROKEAHA.115.010418.abstract.
“Speaking multiple languages linked to better cognitive functions after stroke,” American Heart Association web site, November 19, 2015; http://newsroom.heart.org/news/speaking-multiple-languages-linked-to-better-cognitive-functions-after-stroke?preview=083c.
Marian, V., et al., “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual,” The Dana Foundation web site, October 31, 2012; http://dana.org/Cerebrum/2012/The_Cognitive_Benefits_of_Being_Bilingual/.