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How To Prevent Alzheimer’s by Learning Another Language

Wrinkles, gray hair, failing eyesight, brittle bones. As the saying goes, getting old is not for sissies. Most of the bodily changes that come with aging have remedies. They can’t be completely avoided or cured, but they can be compensated for to a degree. You can get stronger glasses, or bifocals. You can color your hair, if vanity demands it. You can take calcium to stave off osteoporosis. But what can you do about memory loss and dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s Disease? You can learn a second language.
According to the National Institute on Aging, somewhere between 2.4 and 5.1 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. Those numbers will only continue to increase as the Baby Boom generation ages. The number of people aged 65 and older is estimated to reach 72 million by the year 2030.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, but recent studies are showing that bilingual people do not suffer from the disease the same way monolingual people do. In bilingual people, the onset of the disease happens much later, and although they have similar physical symptoms, their mental acuity remains better, longer. Learning a foreign language can do a lot to preserve brain function.

How exactly does learning a language do this? As your brain works to incorporate the new vocabulary and conversational skills, new neural pathways are created, improving brain and memory function. The same way exercise helps keep your heart healthy, exercising your brain with language lessons helps it fight off Alzheimer’s Disease.
It may sound like a daunting task, especially with how busy our lives can be, but incorporating language learning is not as hard as you might think. Spanish, for example, is one of the fastest growing languages in America; perhaps you can get your company to pay for Spanish lessons if it’s to promote job growth. If this isn’t an option, paying for classes and purchasing textbooks can be very expensive and time-consuming. Audio-based programs are nice because you can play them in your car or while exercising and there are many free tutorials online.

Language lessons are no substitute for professional medical care, and they’re not a cure. There may be many who will try to offer cures to those who are desperate—don’t fall for them. But prevention is always preferable to treatment after the fact. Aerobic exercise can help you avoid taking medication for high blood pressure. Wouldn’t you rather engage in a safe, fun activity that can keep your brain healthy and help you avoid taking expensive medication for the rest of your life, or worse, losing the ability to recognize family and friends?

Commit to learning a new language, and keeping your brain young and healthy. And it’s never too early to start, either. Encourage your kids and other family members to take language lessons and fight off memory loss. Besides, once you learn your second language, you’ll need someone to practice with, so make it a family project. You’ll feel great knowing you did something good for your family, and for yourself.

Caroline Ruddy is a freelance blogger for PickTheBrain.

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  • http://www.notactuallyahero.com Rob @notactuallyahero

    Learning a new language is difficult. And that’s why it works.

    It’s easy to get lazy and to make excuses such as “I’m too old to learn a new language” but it’s an amazing accomplishment.

    And there’s so many side benefits as well. Such as being twice as awesome.

    • Mscaroliner

      I agree and think motivation is key to many things, especially health!

  • http://www.clintcora.com Clint Cora

    I heard about this too.  Although things like crossword puzzles and other types of courses are great for keeping the mind sharp at the senior ages, I heard that new languages in particular is the best way to do this since it requires so much neural generations.  It might be harder for adults compared to children but the efforts are worth it.  As a middle ager, I’m relearning my own cultural language of Cantonese and it’s a tough one.  After getting an acceptable level, I’ll take on Mandarin.  I brush up on basic French or Spanish whenever I have to travel to regions where those languages are predominant.  A great exercise all round.

  • http://Mazzastick.com Justin

    Hi Caroline,
    I never thought of learning a new language to prevent or curb Alzheimers. I can see though that doing a brain activity like learning a new language would open neural pathways, ie opening up channels for energy to flow.

  • http://thebooksthatchangedmylife.com Marc Van Der Linden

    Recently, I heard about this idea as well and it could be true.  The idea was that people who think in more than one language and actually THINK in the different languages, always have words for what they want to say. Demented people often have problems with that. 

    My both parents died on dementia and I never have seen multi lingual people in their homes.  

    At the other hand, the many multi lingual people I meet, usually can express their-selves very clear.

    So it could be true. 

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Awesome.. I love learning languages, it looks like its one of the best ways to put off the ‘atrophy’ of the brain (like any other muscle that gets saggy in our old age) till much later. Nice to know, though in terms of motivation it doesn’t really move the needle…meeting new people is the ultimate motivator for me :D.

  • http://emanera.rs letnji kursevi

    I agree, if you know more languages you worth more! I find this on http://emanera.rs