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Being bilingual may ward off ageing, dementia

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Toronto:  If you know two or more languages, chances are that you will save more brain power as you age compared to those who missed out.

A team of researchers has established that years of bilingualism change how the brain carries out tasks that require concentrating on one piece of information without becoming distracted by other information.

This makes the brain more efficient and economical with its resources.

“After years of daily practice managing interference between two languages, bilinguals become experts at selecting relevant information and ignoring information that can distract from a task,” said Dr Ana Inés Ansaldo from the University of Montreal.

To arrive at this conclusion, Ansaldo’s team asked two groups of seniors (one of monolinguals and one of bilinguals) to perform a task that involved focusing on visual information while ignoring spatial information.

The researchers compared the networks between different brain areas as people did the task.

They found that monolinguals recruited a larger circuit with multiple connections, whereas bilinguals recruited a smaller circuit that was more appropriate for the required information.

In a nutshell, bilinguals showed higher connectivity between visual processing areas located at the back of the brain.

“These data indicate that the bilingual brain is more efficient and economical, as it recruits fewer regions and only specialised regions,” explained Ansaldo in a paper published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.

The results may explain why the brains of bilinguals are better equipped at staving off the signs of cognitive ageing or dementia.

“We now need to study how this function translates to daily life, for example, when concentrating on one source of information instead of another, which is something we have to do every day,” Ansaldo noted.

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