A new study has shown being bilingual is not just a trait that leads to a more well-rounded person, it actually may slow brain aging. The study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, revealed bilingual people are seen to have a slower aging process that could help them achieve longer and more satisfying lives.
Although previous research on the study of bilinguals has revealed it could lead to difficulties in a number of social settings and learning issues, the new study states that the "reverse causality" has proven difficult.
This study looked specifically at cognitive functions of the brain in those speaking two languages and how that relates to the aging process, with the overall findings pointing to a "better baseline cognitive functions" as bilinguals age.
"Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence," says lead author Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.
The researchers took the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 data that had 835 English language native speakers born and living around Scotland's capital city, who were 11 in 1947 when they were given an intelligence test. Then, some 65 years later, they were tested again and those who had learned one or more language other than English were seen to have better cognitive functions at their elderly age.
The study said the strongest results were in "general intelligence and reading," giving a basis for the belief that those who are able to speak a second language are, on the whole, smarter than the general population, at least according to this study.
"The Lothian Birth Cohort offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language," concludes Bak.
"These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain."
The research was published in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society.