Learning a second language really can slow the rate of mental decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease, the first study of its kind has revealed.
Being fluent in two or more tongues stops patients of the devastating disease from eventually being robbed of their memory.
MRI scans of patients with Alzheimer's showed they retained more of their gray matter in crucial brain areas if they were bilingual.
This slowly fades away as the disease progresses. It is the most common form of dementia and strikes more than 500,000 in the UK and 5.5 million Americans.
The idea that being able to speak at least two languages can prevent dementia has been widely floated around in recent years.
But the plethora of studies showing a link between the two have mostly been done on younger and healthy adults, Concordia University researchers say.
It is believed that bilingual brains are better at resisting Alzheimer's because they spend a lifetime switching between languages.
This switching process helps build up the connectivity in brain areas linked to executive control on the left side of the brain.
Italian scientists last year claimed being bilingual helps stave off the neurological disease by an extra five years.
Vita-Salute San Raffaele University researchers made that conclusion based on a study of 85 patients who suffered from Alzheimer's.
The new study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, adds to the ever-growing body of evidence.
It involved nearly 100 people with Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) - widely considered to be a pre-cursor to dementia.
They all lived in Montreal, one of the largest cities in the state of Quebec, where French is spoken as the main language.
Professor Natalie Phillips, co-author, said: 'Most of the previous research on brain structure was conducted with healthy younger or older adults.
'Our new study contributes to the hypothesis that having two languages exercises specific brain regions and can increase cortical thickness and grey matter density.
'And it extends these findings by demonstrating that these structural differences can be seen in the brains of multilingual Alzheimer's disease and MCI patients.
'Our results contribute to research that indicates that speaking more than one language is one of a number of lifestyle factors that contributes to cognitive reserve.
Our new study contributes to the hypothesis that having two languages exercises specific brain regions and can increase cortical thickness and grey matter density
Professor Natalie Phillips, Concordia University
'They support the notion that multilingualism and its associated cognitive and socio-cultural benefits are associated with brain plasticity.'
Each volunteer was given an MRI scan to measure their cortical thickness and tissue density within crucial brain areas.
These included the language control areas and medial temporal lobe structures that are important for memory and waste away in dementia.
The sample included 34 monolingual MCI patients, 34 multilingual MCI patients, 13 monolingual AD patients and 13 multilingual AD patients.
This is believed to be the first study to assess the structure of the language and cognition control regions in patients with Alzheimer's or MCI.
It is also the first to demonstrate an association between those regions of the brain and memory function in these groups.
Professor Phillips added they are currently investigating exactly how being able to speak more than one language can prevent against dementia.
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