A new study shows that bilingual patients did not contract Alzheimer’s, the worst phase of dementia until five years later than their monolingual compadres. Mastering a second language can pump up your brain in ways that seem to delay getting Alzheimer’s disease later on.

Ellen Bialystok, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto discussed this phenomenon at the AAAS conference in Washington D.C. this week. Once annually, AAAS sponsors an international conference-four days of symposia, lectures, seminars, workshops, and poster sessions that cover every area of science, technology, and education. Nearly 1,000 scientists present new and exciting multidisciplinary research and developments to nearly 8,000 attendees who will participate in the meeting and network with colleagues.

Until recently, much of the study of bilingualism has centered on babies, as scientists wondered why simply speaking to infants in two languages allows them to learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one. Their brains seem to become more flexible, better able to multitask. As they grow up, their brains show better executive control, a system key to higher functioning as Bialystok puts it, “the most important part of your mind.”

Bialystok took the time to study 450 Alzheimer’s patients, all of whom showed the same degree of impairment at the time of diagnosis. Half were bilingual, and the rest monolingual.

The bilingual patients had Alzheimer’s symptoms and were diagnosed between four and five years later than the patients who spoke only one language, she told the annual meeting’s attendees this week. Her work supports an earlier study from other researchers that also found a protective effect.

When a person knows two languages, they are essentially turned on all the time, but the brain learns to inhibit the one you don’t need, keeping your brain at a level of constant activity.

At the University of Maryland, scientists are studying how to identify adults who would be good candidates to master a new language, and then what types of training are best. Having a pretty strong executive control system, like the lifelong bilinguals have, is among the good predictive factors, said Amy Weinberg, deputy director of the university’s Center for Advanced Study of Language.

Even if a person is not bilingual, there are other ways to exercise the brain. One can play word games, for example, to stimulate cognitive thinking. Crosswords, word search and word jumbles not only exercise the brain but also are fun, challenging and relaxing for those who spend time doing them. Online word games come in many forms and are fun and free. There are also many cool puzzle games, children’s puzzles for the youngsters as well as various educational puzzles for all ages.

Daily brain training is a good habit to acquire, even if for just five or ten minutes a day. If one picks brain exercises that are fun and challenging the time will fly by while, in the process, you enhance your memory and increase mind power.

Most experts agree that age memory loss comes as a result of disuse. In conclusion, Alzheimer research indicates the condition can be headed off through pursuing different memory improvement exercises. As we age our brain functions slowly start to diminish. This needn’t necessarily happen. Just as a regular physical exercise program can keep your physical body in good shape well into your senior years, an effective mental exercise program will do the same for your brain.

So, use it or lose it!

Source: AAAS. Advancing Science, Serving Society/

Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.