Research shows how the brain's immune system could be activated to improve memory
In the five-year study, researchers followed 158 patients who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. For the study, they classified bilingual people as having high cognitive reserve and monolingual people as having low cognitive reserve.
Patients were matched on age, education, and cognitive level at the time of diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. The researchers followed their six-month interval appointments at a hospital memory clinic to see the point at which diagnoses changed from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's disease. The conversion time for bilinguals, 1.8 years after initial diagnosis, was significantly faster than it was for monolinguals, who took 2.6 years to convert to Alzheimer's disease. This difference suggests that bilingual patients had more neuropathology at the time they were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment than the monolinguals, even though they presented with the same level of cognitive function.
These results contribute to the growing body of evidence showing that bilinguals are more resilient in dealing with neurodegeneration than monolinguals. They operate at a higher level of functioning because of the cognitive reserve, which means that many of these individuals will be independent longer, Bialystok says. This study adds new evidence by showing that the decline is more rapid once a clinical threshold has been crossed, presumably because there is more disease already in the brain.
"Given that there is no effective treatment for Alzheimer's or dementia, the very best you can hope for is keeping these people functioning so that they live independently so that they don't lose connection with family and friends. That's huge." Source:
York University Journal reference:
Berkes, M., et al. (2020) Conversion of Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer Disease in Monolingual and Bilingual Patients. Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders . doi.org/10.1097/WAD. 373 .
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