After more than a decade of research, this much we know: it’s good for your brain to know another language.

A new study, published in Neuropsychologia,  goes further, however, focusing specifically on the effects of knowing a second language for patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Unlike previous studies using CT scans, the researchers  used high-resolution, whole-brain MRI data and sophisticated analysis techniques to investigate language and cognition control areas in the frontal regions of the brain, and medial temporal lobe structures that are important for memory and are brain areas known to atrophy in MCI and AD patients.

Their sample included 34 monolingual MCI patients, 34 multilingual MCI patients, 13 monolingual AD patients and 13 multilingual AD patients.

The researchers say that their findings suggest that multilingualism is associated with increased brain plasticity and cognitive reserve. Moreover, their study indicates, they say, that people who speak more than one language may in some circumstances compensate for AD-related tissue loss by accessing alternative networks or other brain regions for memory processing, a hypothesis they hope to test in future studies.

Paper: “Structural brain differences between monolingual and multilingual patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease: Evidence for cognitive reserve”
Reprinted from materials provided by Concordia University.