I've heard that learning a second language can help delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Is this true?

Answer From Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

Possibly. Studies on the connection between bilingualism and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease have had conflicting results.

Some studies have shown that if you know two or more languages — and you have risk factors for Alzheimer's — you may experience a delay in the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms. Some researchers believe being bilingual or multilingual helps develop your brain's cognitive reserve in the same way that engaging in other mentally and socially stimulating activities does.

However, other studies have not found a clear connection between being bilingual and having a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. More research is needed before it's completely understood how cognitive reserve works to delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

It's thought that activities that develop cognitive reserve work because they increase the robustness of your brain's architecture — enriching blood flow, enhancing the activity of neurons and putting more of your brain to use. This may make up for the loss of diseased parts of the brain.

Engaging in a variety of activities, especially those promoting mental and social stimulation, may help people at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia slow or delay its onset.

And if you're interested in learning another language, go for it. However, more research is needed before it's known whether learning a second language later in life has the same protective effect as might a lifetime of speaking a second language.

With

Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

April 20, 2019 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. MIND diet may cut Alzheimer's risk
  2. Adult day service
  3. Alzheimer's sleep problems
  4. Alzheimer's: New treatments
  5. Helping an Alzheimer's caregiver
  6. Alzheimer's 101
  7. Alzheimer's and dementia care: 8 tips for doctor visits
  8. Alzheimer's and daily tasks
  9. Alzheimer's and dementia: Tips for daily care
  10. Understanding the difference between dementia types
  11. Alzheimer's: Can a head injury increase my risk?
  12. Mediterranean diet
  13. Alzheimer's disease
  14. Alzheimer's disease: Can exercise prevent memory loss?
  15. Alzheimer's drugs
  16. Alzheimer's genes
  17. Alzheimer's nose spray: New Alzheimer's treatment?
  18. Alzheimer's or depression: Could it be both?
  19. Alzheimer's prevention: Does it exist?
  20. Alzheimer's stages
  21. Alzheimer's test: Detection at the earliest stages
  22. Alzheimer's and holidays
  23. Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?
  24. Antidepressants and alcohol: What's the concern?
  25. Antidepressants and weight gain: What causes it?
  26. Antidepressants: Can they stop working?
  27. Antidepressants: Side effects
  28. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you
  29. Antidepressants: Which cause the fewest sexual side effects?
  30. Anxiety disorders
  31. Atypical antidepressants
  32. Axona: Medical food to treat Alzheimer's
  33. Caffeine and depression: Is there a link?
  34. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  35. Can music help someone with Alzheimer's?
  36. Can yoga help me keep caregiver stress in check?
  37. Caregiver stress
  38. Dementia caregiving: Dealing with the strain on your marriage
  39. Long-distance caregiving
  40. Clinical depression: What does that mean?
  41. CT scan
  42. CT scans: Are they safe?
  43. Depression and anxiety: Can I have both?
  44. Depression, anxiety and exercise
  45. Depression: Diagnosis is key
  46. Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap
  47. Depression (major depressive disorder)
  48. Depression: Provide support, encouragement
  49. Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
  50. Diabetes and Alzheimer's
  51. Diagnosing Alzheimer's
  52. Does obstructive sleep apnea increase my risk for Alzheimer's disease?
  53. Alzheimer's elder care
  54. Fish oil and depression
  55. Folic acid supplements: Can they slow cognitive decline?
  56. Ginkgo biloba: Can it prevent memory loss?
  57. Home safety tips for Alzheimer's caregivers
  58. How can I cope with caregiver guilt?
  59. Huperzine A: Can it treat Alzheimer's?
  60. Improve brain health with the MIND diet
  61. Intermittent fasting
  62. Is the definition of Alzheimer's disease changing?
  63. Depression and diet
  64. Lexapro side effects: Is breast tenderness common?
  65. Male depression: Understanding the issues
  66. MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine?
  67. Marijuana and depression
  68. Mayo Clinic Minute: 3 tips to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease
  69. Mayo Clinic Minute: Alzheimer's disease risk and lifestyle
  70. Mayo Clinic Minute New definition of Alzheimer's changes
  71. Mayo Clinic Minute: Women and Alzheimer's Disease
  72. Mediterranean diet recipes
  73. Memory loss: When to seek help
  74. Mild depression: Are antidepressants effective?
  75. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  76. MRI
  77. Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective?
  78. Nervous breakdown: What does it mean?
  79. New Alzheimers Research
  80. Pain and depression: Is there a link?
  81. Pet therapy
  82. Phantosmia: What causes olfactory hallucinations?
  83. Phosphatidylserine supplements: Can they improve memory?
  84. Positron emission tomography scan
  85. Rapidly progressing Alzheimer's: Something else?
  86. Seeing Inside the Heart with MRI
  87. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  88. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  89. Sharing Alzheimer's diagnosis
  90. Brain anatomy
  91. Sundowning: Late-day confusion
  92. Treatment-resistant depression
  93. Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants
  94. Video: Alzheimer's drug shows early promise
  95. MRI
  96. Vitamin B-12 and depression
  97. Vitamin B-12 and Alzheimer's
  98. Vitamin D: Can it prevent Alzheimer's & dementia?
  99. Young-onset Alzheimer's