By | February 22, 2016

This week I was reading about the advantages of being bilingual and discovered something amazing … at least to me.  One benefit of being bilingual is reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Advantages of Being Bilingual

Of course, there are many other advantages as well.  Beyond the most obvious of being able to communicate when traveling abroad, did you know that being bilingual …

  • Can improve problem solving
  • Can help with multitasking
  • Can improve cognitive skills
  • Can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms
  • Can help with creativity
  • Can help you be a better planner

With that list of benefits, your answer to the question should be, “where do I begin?”

In Relation to Alzheimer’sHealthy brain vs alzheimers

As I said at the outset, of those suggested benefits the one that really jumped out at me was the one about Alzheimer’s.  It seems like every day I hear of someone else that has just been handed that sobering diagnosis.  What if learning another language was a way to help delay or possibly avoid the symptoms?  I want to shout out now!  So I am.

Alzheimer’s is progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility. This disease is a progressive one that destroys memory and other important mental functions.  Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia — a group of brain disorders that result in the loss of intellectual and social skills severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life.

Mayo Clinic doctor, Ronald Petersen, M.D. writes, “some researchers believe being bilingual or multilingual helps develop your brain’s cognitive reserve in the same way that engaging in other mentally and socially stimulating activities does.  However, other studies have not found a clear connection between being bilingual and having a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed before it’s completely understood how cognitive reserve works to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”Pieces of Memory Missing

What’s at play here, is that people who keep active, using their mental capacity on a regular basis, are enriching the blood flow, enhancing the neuronal activity, and keeping the brain working.  To engage the brain, so to speak, with learning a second or third language may actually help people at risk of dementia to slow or delay the onset.

An interesting study presented by the American Academy of Neurology set out to determine the association between bilingualism and age at onset of dementia and its subtypes, taking into account potential confounding factors.  They reviewed records of 648 patients with dementia (391 of them bilingual) diagnosed in a specialist clinic.  Their findings were that on average bilingual patients developed dementia 4.5 years later than the monolingual ones.

How Will You Respond?

Of course, some will object “I’m too old to start learning,” but that’s just a myth.  We are never too old to stop learning.  We should strive to learn something new every day.  As we get older, we may find it harder to find things that we don’t already know, that we want to know, and that we are willing to take the effort to learn.  But that should never stop us!

If only for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, learning a second language should rank high in our list of priorities.  It’s also fascinating to learn about another culture, offers huge benefits when traveling in a country where that language is spoken, and opens the door into conversing with other people and making new friends.

So what culture intrigues you the most?  Let me know what culture and why in the comments below.  And, for some steps you can take to begin learning another language today, click here.





  1. Henning

    This is news to me. I know about the connection between being bilingual and your problem solving ability, but the rest is new. In my country most of us are bilingual and we sort of take that fact for granted. It’s nice to know something you questioned as a kid has some unexpected benefits. Great info.

    1. David Hagstrom

      Thanks, Henning! I’m glad you enjoyed our article … and get to enjoy the benefits of being bilingual. Here’s another article which addresses the benefits of being bilingual.

  2. Abrielle

    Way interesting article! It makes me want to get my mom learning spanish haha! It makes sense though that learning would keep the brain stimulated and engaged. Come to think of it, my 91yr old Grandpa speaks a bit of Polish, and he is sharp as a tack. Great article, thanks for sharing!

    1. Dana Hagstrom Post author

      Thanks for your comment. If you’re serious about picking up Spanish or another language (you or your mom), check out our other site

  3. Carmen

    Hi David, this is an interesting post. Like you, I had never before seen or heard any studies that suggested being bilingual would slow down the onset of Alzheimers! I wonder if the data included a look at people across several countries. I am not sure I buy the theory, but I certainly agree with the idea that it is important to continue exercising the brain and learning a new language can certainly do that. For those who are less inclined to commit to this kind of training, what other tricks, tools, apps, programs would you recommend for challenging the brain?

  4. Marilyn

    That’s an interesting article, David! Who’d have thought that learning another language could help you like that!

    I have so much respect for those who have learned many languages – it’s something that’s never really occurred to me.

    Growing up in Australia we didn’t really think it was all that necessary. My sister did French at school but what good did it do her? That was my thought.

    But there was a time I wished I’d taken the time to learn Arabic – it would have been really helpful.

    1. David Hagstrom

      Thanks for your comment, Marilyn. It’s not too late for you to begin to learn a new language. There are so many resources available to guide you on your way. To get started, take a look at my other site.

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