There is strong epidemiologic evidence to suggest that older adults who maintain an active lifestyle in terms of social, mental, and physical engagement are protected to some degree against the onset of dementia. Such factors are said to contribute to cognitive reserve, which acts to compensate for the accumulation of amyloid and other brain pathologies. We present evidence that lifelong bilingualism is a further factor contributing to cognitive reserve.
Data were collected from 211 consecutive patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer disease (AD). Patients' age at onset of cognitive impairment was recorded, as was information on occupational history, education, and language history, including fluency in English and any other languages. Following this procedure, 102 patients were classified as bilingual and 109 as monolingual.
We found that the bilingual patients had been diagnosed 4.3 years later and had reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than the monolingual patients. The groups were equivalent on measures of cognitive and occupational level, there was no apparent effect of immigration status, and the monolingual patients had received more formal education. There were no gender differences.
The present data confirm results from an earlier study, and thus we conclude that lifelong bilingualism confers protection against the onset of AD. The effect does not appear to be attributable to such possible confounding factors as education, occupational status, or immigration. Bilingualism thus appears to contribute to cognitive reserve, which acts to compensate for the effects of accumulated neuropathology.
|AD||= Alzheimer disease;|
|MMSE||= Mini-Mental State Examination.|