People who can speak more than one language are less likely to suffer from stroke-related cognitive injury than those who are limited in their linguistic skills, a new study says.

Suvarna Alladi, DM and her fellow researchers at the Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences discovered that stroke patients who were bilingual had twice as much of a better chance to show normal cognitive function following a stroke compared to patients who could only speak in one language.

The team also observed that polyglot stroke survivors also scored better on examinations that measured their function and attention after their stroke.

Both study groups, however, displayed virtually similar rates of aphasia, with monolinguals showing an 11.8 percent frequency for the developing the language disorder and bilinguals showing a 10.5 percent frequency for the condition.

"The only outcome not influenced by bilingualism was the frequency of aphasia," Alladi and her team mentioned in the journal Stroke"Although this might look surprising at first sight, this finding is in-line with current research, suggesting that the mechanism underlying the protective effect of bilingualism is not because of better linguistic but executive functions acquired through a lifelong practice of language switching."

Contrasting Results

The findings of the Nizam's study run contradictory to those suggested in an earlier research carried out by British researchers.

In this particular paper, which is featured in the journal Brain, the scientists found that patients who spoke more than one language had poorer language skills after suffering a stroke.

Dr. Jose Biller, chair of the neurology department at Loyola University, pointed out that while there is a significant degree of interest in how bilingualism affects stroke outcomes and cognitive aging, researchers should still be careful in interpreting results.

He said these findings are not yet conclusive even though they are intriguing.

Other Benefits of Having a Bilingual Brain

Being bilingual has also been linked to better performance in people during brain-challenging tasks.

Researchers from Northwestern University found that people who are fluent in more than one language were able to interpret information more easily and efficiently compared to those who know only one language.

Lead researcher Dr. Viorica Marian and her colleagues made use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of bilingual individuals. They observed that these people easily filtered out unnecessary words during a language comprehension test because their brains were already adept at controlling two languages and inhibiting words that were not relevant.

The researchers note that this indicates strong mental abilities in bilingual people, which helps them concentrate better as they can block outside noises during study.

Another study conducted by the University of Edinburgh suggests that picking up another language even in adulthood has the potential to delay the onset of dementia in old people by several years.

The improved cognitive abilities in study participants were observed both in people who learned another language early and even in those who picked up a second language later in life.

Photo: The LEAF Project | Flickr 

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