Bilinguals Are More Likely to Recover From Stroke
I took a Spanish class when I was in high school for two years.
I didn’t practice it much outside class, and didn’t have any reason to keep with it. So as you might expect it fell to the wayside and eventually I forgot it.
Learning a new language and being able to speak it fluently takes a lot of time, effort, and practice. But it does come with benefits.
Now, research from the American Heart Association has found another surprising brain benefit of being bilingual.
They’ve found that speaking another language can double your chances of fully recovering your brain abilities after having a stroke.
Effects of Stroke
There’s actually a number of benefits of being bilingual or multilingual. People used to think it’d harm your development when young, but they’ve now found that this isn’t true.
For one, bilinguals have noticeably more gray matter than a person who only speaks one language. In addition to this they’ve also found that bilinguals are protected from the effects of cognitive decline.
One of the biggest and well known diseases of cognitive decline is Alzheimer’s. But there’s a second, lesser known, culprit. The senior investigator of the study, Subhash Kaul, comments:
“People tend to think of Alzheimer’s as the only cause of dementia, but they need to know that stroke is also an important cause.”
Subhash and his colleagues looked at records of over 600 people that had strokes from 2006 to 2013. About half of the patients they looked at were bilingual.
So what’s the difference they saw when looking at people who spoke more than one language?
Here’s the main highlights:
- Bilinguals were twice as likely to maintain normal brain function following a stroke. 40% of bilingual patients recovered as opposed to only 20% in single language patients.
- Patients that spoke two languages performed better on tests of attention. An executive brain function.
- They also scored better on tests requiring them to retrieve and organize information.
What Causes It?
So what causes bilinguals to better bounce back from stroke?
It may come from the fact that they have to daily mental gymnastics. Suvarna Alladi was another researcher on the study, and here’s what he says:
“The advantage of bilingualism is that it makes people switch from one language to another, so while they inhibit one language, they have to activate another to communicate.”
They are constantly searching for the right words, while inhibiting others. While most of us barely have to think to speak our native tongue, they need to translate on the go. Suvarna elaborates:
“The cognitive benefit may not be seen in places where the need to function in two or more languages isn’t as extensive.”
One Last Tip
Of course this shouldn’t be the only reason to learn a language. Activities that work your brain and that you personally enjoy keep your mind sharper, faster, and nimble for longer. It’s one of the big reasons it’s a core pillar of brain health.
And who says that you would necessarily have to learn a language? Here’s Subhash:
“Our study suggests that intellectually stimulating activities pursued over time, from a young age or even starting in mid-life, can protect you from the damage brought on by a stroke.”
So go read books, learn to dance, or take a class online. Life-long learners enjoy life through learning about their world and reap the benefits.