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08-01-2013 | Physical rehabilitation | Article

Bilingual older people reap neural rewards



medwireNews: Older bilingual people are faster than their monolingual peers in switching from one task to another, show researchers.

Moreover, bilingual people show different patterns of brain activity while engaging in a perceptual task-switching experiment to their monolingual peers, report Brian Gold (University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, USA) and co-authors.

These results suggest that lifelong bilingualism offsets age-related declines in the neural efficiency for cognitive control processes, they write in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Gold and team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that bilingual adults aged 60-68 years outperformed their monolingual peers in a perceptual task-switching experiment and displayed decreased activation in the left lateral frontal cortex and cingulate cortex, an area known to be involved in task switching, the authors say.

The study used a perceptual task-switching paradigm and included a total of 110 participants, divided into younger (mean age 32.2 years) and older (mean age 64.1 years) age groups. All participants completed a task whereby stimuli, consisting of two possible shapes was presented in the center of the screen. The participants were asked to decide which shape or color the stimuli were, and were required to alternate between shape and color decisions.

"This study provides some of the first evidence of an association between a particular cognitively stimulating activity - in this case, speaking multiple languages on a daily basis - and brain function," remarked an independent expert, John Woodward (Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA), in a press statement.

"The authors provide clear evidence of a different pattern of neural functioning in bilingual versus monolingual individuals."

Gold and team also found that younger adults with a mean age of 32.2 years were faster at performing the task-switching experiment than their older counterparts. However, being bilingual did not affect task performance or brain activity in the younger participants, the authors note.

"This suggests that bilingual seniors use their brains more efficiently than monolingual seniors," commented Gold. "Together, these results suggest that lifelong bilingualism may exert its strongest benefits on the functioning of frontal brain regions in aging."

By Piriya Mahendra, medwireNews Reporter

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