Harvard Health Letter

News briefs: Speaking two languages protects thinking skills

Want a little more proof that using your brain keeps your thinking skills healthy in older age? A study published online in Neurology on Nov. 6, 2013, shows that speaking a second language may delay the onset of several types of dementia for up to four-and-a-half years. That's compared with people who speak only one language. Study authors speculate that speaking more than one language earlier in life leads to better development of the brain areas that handle executive functions and attention tasks. While we don't know yet if learning a second language later in life will have the same protection, there is evidence that taking part in activities that stimulate your thinking skills may delay dementia. "There is no question that an older adult's interest in learning a new language and in learning new skills in general bodes well for his or her memory and thinking," says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.