Speaking more than one language may translate to better mental health.
That’s the conclusion of a new study, published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, that found being bilingual lowers the risk of dementia.
The York University research suggests language skills – like puzzles and other activities that stimulate the mind – have a positive impact on the resiliency of the adult brain.
"Previous studies have established that bilingualism has a beneficial effect on cognitive development in children," noted lead researcher Dr. Ellen Bialystok. "In our paper, we reviewed recent studies using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods to examine the effects of bilingualism on cognition in adults."
By studying the brains of bilingual people, researchers found using two languages stimulates regions of the brain linked to attention and cognitive thinking. Speaking two languages may reconfigure and strengthen these regions, perhaps enhancing "mental flexibility," to process information efficiently, the study found.
That may, in turn, delay or reduce the symptoms of age-related declines in mental abilities and dementia.
"It should not be surprising that intense and sustained experience leaves its mark on our minds and brains,” said Bialystok, “and it is now clear that the bilingual brain has been uniquely shaped by experience."