There are many benefits cited about being a bilingual speaker, not least being able to communicate in another language, however being bilingual now appears to offer health benefits too. This latest revelation relates to a mental disease that is increasing in prevalence and causes much anguish both to the sufferer and their friends and families with its main symptom of gradual memory loss – dementia. It’s a big problem, and any preventative measure for this disease is big news.
More About Dementia
Dementia is an illness that predominantly affects elderly individuals. It is mainly diagnosed by a worsening of the memory. A degree of memory loss is normal in ageing adults, however for dementia sufferers this becomes more extreme. In the UK alone the illness is common and at present has around 800,000 sufferers. More symptoms associated with dementia are available on the NHS website.
The Results of the Research
The research into dementia published by the BBC found that those that spoke a second language had a tendency to develop dementia 5 years later than those that were monolingual. The study also found bilinguals developed a later onset of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia.
Other findings to come out of the study were that that these benefits of bilingualism were true irrespective of literary ability – even if a person was illiterate, they still reaped the benefits and held off dementia longer than those monolinguistic individuals. Additionally, the positive effect of being bilingual was so profound that it surpassed traditional medications in how effective it was in treating the disease – a five year delay in onset as mentioned above is significant.
Edinburgh University conducted the research and used a sample of 650 dementia patients, assessing when they developed the illness and their language speaking abilities. This is the largest sample size to date used for this kind of research.
The Science Behind the Findings
Little is known about the workings of dementia as an illness, mental sufferings continue to prove illusive to scientists – a far cry from what we now know about higher profile killers such as cancer and heart disease. However the study suggests that bilingual individuals have trained their brains more, resulting in a more resilient brain that can defend itself better when dementia begins its onset during later life.
How the UK Deals with Dementia
In the UK with an ageing population raising awareness of age-related illnesses, dementia is well known about. There are a number of charities that work solely in helping out sufferers and the families of sufferers. Most charity efforts go into improving the quality of life of those diagnosed with the dementia, as there is no definite cure. Dementia costs the UK in excess of £17 billion and so understandably there’s a lot of research that goes into learning more about this illness!
Another interesting point of note is that the UK has a marked decrease in school students that wish to study a second language, both during their teenage years and also when they go in to higher education and university. Compared to other countries where it is the norm to learn a second language, it’s not a priority for UK students. This UK blog from a Brighton based language firm, LanguageNow looks into this language learning crisis in more detail and if you’d like more information about dementia as an illness, visit dementia.org.
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Lucy works part time in her daughters’ school, she loves languages and will most definitely be encouraging her daughter to take up a second language when she moves on from her primary school in a few years time.