Speak more languages to delay dementia: study

  • Prasad Nichenametla, Hindustan Times, Hyderabad
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  • Updated: Nov 07, 2013 22:19 IST

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 could 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 treated in the Memory Clinic run by the institute’s Department of Neurology, Professor Duggirala Vasanta of Osmania University’s linguistics department studied the use of languages in the city’s interactions.

The two collaborated with Professor Bapiraju Surampudi, coordinator, Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Hyderabad for quantitative analysis of the data with a cognitive science perspective.

The findings of the interdisciplinary study were recently published in the 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 tells HT.

The study’s hypothesis was drawn from evidence found in Canada that occurrence of dementia among the bilinguals was delayed. Many of these bilinguals were found to be immigrants.

“Unlike in the West, multilingualism has become a norm in India. This is a result of aspects like education in English, contact with other language speakers and government initiatives promoting local language.

And we use languages creatively mixing the words and framing new phrases. All this helps the brain be active instead of being passive at times that could lead to early loss of memory,” Vasanta tells HT.

Hyderabad speaking at least two languages and on average three – Telugu, Hindi or Urdu and English – permitted a good platform for the research.

The largest such study was funded under the Cognitive Science Research Initiative of the Department of Science and Technology, GoI.


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