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If you’re bilingual, being able to balance your use of both languages may slow down brain aging

/ 05:32 PM May 10, 2020
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Image: jawphotos/IStock.com via AFP Relaxnews

Bilingual individuals who are able to maintain active bilingualism, which is the regular balanced use of both languages and language switching, could benefit from slower brain aging, according to new research.

Carried out by researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), the new small-scale study looked at 76 cognitively healthy adults aged between 60 and 84 years of age who were bilingual in Chinese and English.

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The participants were asked to complete questionnaires on their language background and complete a series of four tests to measure six areas of executive function, which has been previously associated with bilingualism and refers to complex thinking skills that help with attention, maintaining information, organizing, planning and completing tasks,

The findings, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, showed that more balanced bilingualism and less language switching was linked with better performance in certain aspects of executive control. The researchers say this suggests that active bilingualism could help protect against the cognitive declines that are associated with the normal aging process.

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So far, studies on the effects of bilingualism on the adult brain have been inconsistent, with some finding that speaking a second language can be beneficial for cognitive health, while others have found it makes no difference.

“The effort involved in not switching between languages and ‘staying’ in the target language is more cognitively demanding than switching between languages while actively using both languages. Our study shows that the seniors developed more efficient neural organization at brain regions related to language control, which also overlap with areas involved in executive control,” explained lead principal investigator and author, associate professor Yow Wei Quin from SUTD. JB

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TOPICS: aging, bilingual, brain, cognition, language
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