Multilingualism as cognitive reserve

Multilingualism as cognitive reserve

Multilingualism as cognitive reserve:
delaying the onset of dementia in the elderly

Vol. 2, no. 1, pages 6-11
Alessandra Boiti
University College Roosevelt


Multilingualism can be advantageous for an individual. It is thought to contribute to their cognitive reserve, the ability to resist brain damage. As such, there is evidence it might delay cognitive decline and dementia. The evidence comes from two types of studies. Firstly, studies comparing ages of onset of dementia show that there is a delay of 3-6 years in the appearance of symptoms in multilinguals, compared to monolinguals. This suggests multilingualism could enhance the brain’s ability to deal with decline. Secondly, studies comparing neuropathology in elderly participants with the same cognitive performance found multilinguals have higher levels of atrophy and damage in the brain than monolinguals. This further suggests multilingualism increases the brain’s resilience to damage. However, in both cases more research is needed to confirm multilingualism does indeed delay the onset of dementia, as confounding factors have been identified in both types of studies.

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