Learning a new language may be the key to keeping cognitive skills intact.
You probably know the basic benefits of learning a new language - new connections, marketability in the business world, a new perspective, but a recent study revealed that learning a second language may improve cognitive performance and slow brain aging later in life. The study took into account childhood intelligence to ensure a balance reading throughout the study.
"Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence," Dr. Thomas Bak, the lead study author said.
Bak, who is from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, and his team of researchers based their research on data from the Lothian Birth Cohort, which tested the basic intelligence of a group of 835 English native speakers at age 11 (in 1947). The participants received the test again in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010.
From this 835 person sample, 262 participants knew more than one language and 195 learned a second language before they turned 18. The remainder learned a second language during adulthood. The study's findings indicated that those who spoke more than one language did better on the intelligence tests compared to what would be expected from the baseline, even when the second language was picked up later in life.
After reading the study's findings, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone from the Harvard Medical School in Boston said that the study "provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the aging brain. This research paves the way for future casual studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention."
A 2013 a different study on bilingualism found that people who know more than one language experience the onset of dementia 4.5 years later than those who know only a single language. The prolonging was seen most significantly with Alzheimer's disease.
"Millions of people around the world acquire a second lnaguage later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain," Bak said.