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Senior Care News

January 30, 2017        

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Want Alzheimer’s edge?  Keep speaking Yiddish and English!

A new Italian study suggests that people who speak two or more languages appear to weather the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease better than people who have only mastered one language.

 

Scientists said that bilingual people who had Alzheimer’s outperformed single-language speakers in short- and long-term memory tasks, even though scans showed more severe deterioration in brain metabolism among the bilingual participants.

 

The ability to speak two languages appears to provide the brain with more resilience to withstand damage from Alzheimer’s, according to researchers at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan.

 

The researchers found that the more often a person swapped between two languages during their lifetime, the more capable their brains became of switching to alternate pathways that maintained thinking skills even as Alzheimer’s damage accumulated.

 

Previous studies have shown that lifelong bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia by as much as five years, researchers said.  But to examine that more closely, researchers performed brain scans and memory tests on 85 seniors with Alzheimer’s. Among the participants, 45 spoke both German and Italian, while 40 only spoke one language.

 

The bilingual people dramatically outscored monolingual speakers on memory tests, scoring three to eight times higher, on average.

 

Bilingual people achieved these scores even though scans of their brains revealed more signs of cerebral hypometabolism—a characteristic of Alzheimer’s in which the brain becomes less efficient at converting glucose into energy.

 

The brain scans also provided a clue why this might be.  People who were bilingual appeared to have better functional connectivity in frontal brain regions, which allowed them to maintain better thinking despite their Alzheimer’s.

 

Constantly using two languages appears to make the brain work harder.  During a lifetime this causes structural changes to the brain, creating a “neural reserve” that renders the bilingual brain more resistant against aging, researchers said.

 

Bilingualism also sets up a person for better “neural compensation,” in which the brain copes with its own degeneration and loss of neurons by finding alternative pathways through which to function, researchers added.

 

The new study was published Jan. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Neuronascent granted patent for brain-cell treatments

 

Pharmaceutical firm Neuronascent was granted a U.S. patent this late January for its methods of stimulating neurogenesis and/or inhibiting neuronal degeneration.  Those terms refer to re-growing brain cells and/or slowing them down from deteriorating.

 

The techniques, according to Neuronascent, have potential therapeutic applications for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

 

Patients of Alzheimer’s disease often lose their ability to learn, remember, reason or make decisions due to loss of neurons (brain cells).  According to Neuronascent, neurogenesis could be used to treat Alzheimer’s if young neurons can survive long enough to produce new ones.