A recent study released by the University of Kentucky in Lexington aimed to better understand why “being fluent in more than one language protects against age-related cognitive diseases.”
Researchers used fMRI’s to compare the brains of monolinguals to life-long bilinguals, “LLBL”, (people fluent in two languages since the age of at least 10) during various activities. Of the 110 participants, they found that mostly all monolinguals and LLBL preformed the same on tests that required simple memory, however on tests which required them to switch between activities, the older LLBL were much faster and quicker to respond than the older monolinguals.
The researchers explained that the results they saw from the older generation of monolinguals and LLBL during the two main testing categories (simple memory and switching tasks), were about the same to the results of the younger generation that they tested in a different study. They concluded that the older LLBL’s experienced less activation in several frontal brain regions linked with effortful processing, meaning that the “older bilinguals used their brain more efficiently than the older monolinguals“.
The scientists also explained that they are not sure if learning a language later in life will give a person the same cognitive benefits when they are older compared to a person who is a LLBL. They are also unsure if it’s the “knowledge of two languages that leads to benefits in aging or if there is some underlying characteristics that bilinguals have” which allows them to be more neurally efficient.
Although researchers still have a lot to learn about the increased neural efficiency found in bilinguals, this study made a vast contribution to the understanding of “the cognitive advantage of bilinguals at an old age.”
Read more at: http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/08/lifelong-bilinguals-may-have-more-efficient-brains/?hpt=he_bn2