Speaking more than one language delays the onset of dementia

Published 6 November 2013

Research published in Neurology today (Wednesday 6 November 2013) shows that being bilingual may prevent the onset of dementia by on average, 4.5 years.

In the largest study on the topic to date, research supported by the Indian Department of Science and Technology looked at the records of 648 people with dementia, 391 who were bilingual and spoke more than one language. They found that, on average, dementia symptoms appeared 4.5 years later in bilinguals compared to those who spoke just one language.

This is the first study to show that speaking two languages from an early age can also delay dementia in people who are illiterate. Fifteen percent of the people in this study could not read or write, and yet even the illiterate bilinguals developed dementia several years later than those who just spoke one language.

Alzheimer's Society comment:

'Previous studies have shown that fluency in two languages can delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.  This development shows that being bilingual could delay symptoms for those with other forms of dementia too, and highlights that a person's level of education isn't responsible for this effect.

Further studies could help us understand why language learning helps keep dementia at bay, and if a little bit of broken French can have a similar effect or whether its only once you've spoken a second lingo for a lifetime.'

Dr James Pickett
Head of Research
Alzheimer's Society

Research reference: Alladi et al. 'Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status', published in Neurology on Wednesday 6 November 2013.

Further information

Print this page