Trs bien! Being bilingual reduces your risk of dementia

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UPDATED:

12:50 GMT, 30 March 2012

Are you fluent in a foreign tongue Researchers say this could come in handy for your mental health later in life.

A study has found being bilingual not only increases your cognitive abilities in your youth but can also make the brain more resilient in later life and even offer protection from dementia.

Penelope Cruz

KRISTEN SCOTT THOMAS

Bilingual beauties: Actress Penelope Cruz speaks Spanish and English, while Kristen Scott Thomas is fluent in English and French

Researchers from York University believe speaking two languages could strengthen key brain pathways and enhance 'mental flexibility.'

Study leader Dr Ellen Bialystok, said: 'Previous studies have established
that bilingualism has a beneficial effect on cognitive development in
children.

'In our paper, we reviewed recent studies using both
behavioral and neuroimaging methods to examine the effects of
bilingualism on cognition in adults.'

They found that when monitoring two languages a person recruits brain regions that are critical for
general attention and cognitive control.

This could reconfigure and strengthen the control networks used to process both languages and could enhance 'mental flexibility' – the ability to adapt to ongoing changes.

Studies also suggest that bilingualism improves 'cognitive reserve', the protective effect that stimulating mental or physical activity has on brain functioning in healthy aging. This reserve can also postpone the onset of symptoms in those suffering from dementia.

Dr Bialystok said: 'Our conclusion is that lifelong experience in managing attention to two languages reorganizes specific brain networks, creating a more effective basis for executive control and sustaining better cognitive performance throughout the lifespan.

'It should not be surprising that intense and sustained experience leaves its mark on our minds and brains, and it is now clear that the bilingual brain has been uniquely shaped by experience.'

The study has been published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.