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Being a multi-linguist sharpens the brain

lifestyle Updated: Nov 09, 2013 02:17 IST
Prasad Nichenametla

A neurologist, a linguist and a cognitive science specialist came together in a city that speaks three languages to reveal an interesting phenomenon that could help prevent dementia.

According to a study carried in Hyderabad, speaking a second language may delay the occurrence of three types of dementia — Alzheimer’s, vascular and fronto-temporal - in later life, by about 4.5 years.

While Dr Suvarna Alladi, a neurologist at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences researched the case-files of 648 dementia patients, Professor Duggirala Vasanta of Osmania University’s linguistics department studied the use of languages in the city’s interactions and Professor Bapiraju Surampudi, coordinator, Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Hyderabad, led quantitative analysis of the data with a cognitive science perspective. The findings of the interdisciplinary study in collaboration with The University of Edinburgh were recently published in the American journal — Neurology.

“Our study shows that the brain, constantly switching languages, through one’s lifetime, improves the attention and cognitive control and thus increases the cognitive reserve which protects the brain from developing dementia early,” Dr Alladi told HT.

The study’s hypothesis was drawn from evidence found in Canada that occurrence of dementia among bilinguals was delayed. “Unlike in the West, multilingualism is a norm in India. And we use languages creatively. All this helps the brain to be active that prevents early loss of memory,” Vasanta told HT.