AAN: Third Language a Charm in Warding Off Dementia

Additional languages may be like a gym for the brain, researchers suggest.

ByABC News
February 23, 2011, 11:50 AM

Feb. 23, 2011— -- Speak English? Parlez francais? Habla espanol?

Those who can say yes, oui, or si to all three questions are significantly more likely to avoid cognitive problems late in life than those who speak only two languages, according to Magali Perquin, PhD, of the Public Research Center for Health in Luxembourg, and colleagues.

Moreover, the effect appears to add up -- more languages equal a lower risk of cognitive impairment, Perquin and colleagues reported in a study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Honolulu in April.

"It appears speaking more than two languages has a protective effect on memory in seniors who practice foreign languages over their lifetime or at the time of the study," Perquin said in a statement.

Read this story on www.medpagetoday.com.

The findings, from a study of 230 people with an average age of 73, fit into the context of a growing body of literature that suggests a so-called "cognitive reserve" -- developed by intellectual activities -- protects against dementia.

Indeed, a similar study from a Canadian group, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this month, showed that having two languages rather than one appeared to delay the onset of dementia.

The "use it or lose it model of cognitive function" has been gaining popularity for several years, according to Richard Lipton, MD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. With colleagues, Lipton showed in 2003 that such activities as chess, bridge and doing crossword puzzles appeared to protect against Alzheimer's disease.

In that context, Perquin's findings "are not surprising to me," Lipton told MedPage Today.

But he cautioned that there are at least two other possible explanations for such data, including his own findings.

On one hand, he said, it's possible that the intellectual activities themselves are not protective, but that being the sort of person who does crossword puzzles or learns several languages is the key factor.