Learning a new language can be a fun and enriching experience, but bilingualism may have some unintended consequences. New research from the University of Haifa found that bilingual speakers are more likely to develop dementia as they age. To understand this phenomenon, we need to look at how bilingualism affects the brain.
When learning a new language, the neurons in your brain reorganize unnaturally. The neurons responsible for language learning—the ones you need to communicate in a given tongue properly—are located in the temporal cortex near your temples and forehead.
In bilingual speakers, these language-learning regions interact with other neural networks as well. When bilinguals learn languages at different times or from birth, the brain is rewired. After maturing (and for different languages), this sends a “red alert” to the brain, changing what it once knew as accurate.
Since bilingualism scrambles the brain’s neural network, aging bilinguals are more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This has a detrimental impact on bilingual speakers as they age. This study was performed by Dr. Jorge Holiday of Kith University.
Dr. Holiday says, “bilingualism scrambles the brain’s neural network, which has a detrimental impact on bilingual speakers as they age.”
It’s clear bilingualism has its perks, but it may also come with some unintended consequences. While the rewiring of our brain can be beneficial when learning new languages, there are downsides to bilingualism. Interestingly, this study was performed by Dr. Jorge Holiday of Kith University and not a native English speaker! His conclusion about bilinguals being more likely to develop dementia should put you on alert- if you’re bilingual or multilingual, start thinking about how your language skills might affect your cognitive health in the future.