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Multilinguals enjoy increased protection against a preclinical stage of dementia | The Multilingual Times

19/06/15 1:49 am

Multilinguals enjoy increased protection against a


preclinical stage of dementia
A study conducted with seniors in multilingual Luxembourg suggests an
association between speaking three or more languages and having some
protection against a preclinical stage of dementia.
The research on 232 volunteers, age 65 or older, all of whom had at least two
languages, showed that, with suitable adjustments for education and age, those
who practised three languages or more showed a statistically significant lower
risk of cognitive impairment without dementia (CIND), compared to bilinguals.
Most strikingly, the step-up from two to three languages, from bilingualism to
multilingualism, was associated with a seven-fold protection against CIND,
compared to bilinguals who stayed at this level.
CIND is a syndrome in which individuals show symptoms of memory loss and
cognitive decline but with little or no perceptible effect on daily functioning, thus
falling short of the definition of dementia. With its cosmopolitan environment
and its three official languages, Luxembourg is a natural laboratory of
multilingualism, where people have to switch permanently from one language
to another, authors Magali Perquin and colleagues write. In this study, we
explored the potentially protective effect of multilingualism against cognitive
impairment in an elderly cohort. (p1)
The research, which detailed the participants lifelong history of language
learning, also suggests that when it comes to these effects of multilingualism, the
earlier and faster, the better: each years delay with the achievement of a third
language was associated with a significant increase in the risk of CIND (p3).
The authors see their research as supporting the concept of cognitive reserve,
which hypothesizes that some kinds of activity strengthen the minds capacity to
maintain function despite the ravages of time. Our results therefore seem to
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Multilinguals enjoy increased protection against a preclinical stage of dementia | The Multilingual Times

19/06/15 1:49 am

converge towards the notion of a cognition benefit from a threshold of three


languages, practised as early in life as possible. Multilingualism certainly
contributes to providing greater reserve which is protective by delaying in time
the clinical expression of dementia. (p6)
The study, conducted by the Luxembourg Institute of Health was part of the
MemoVie research programme on cognitive ageing and dementia, and was
published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE.
Perquin M, Vaillant M, Schuller A-M, Pastore J, Dartigues J-F, Lair M-L and
Diederich, N
(2013) Lifelong Exposure to Multilingualism: New Evidence to Support Cognitive
Reserve Hypothesis. PLoS ONE 8(4): e62030.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062030
Harry Browne
Gessica De Angelis

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