WASHINGTON – People who speak two languages may be able to ward off dementia for years, regardless of if they can read or not, according to a study Wednesday.
The study in the U.S. journal Neurology is the first of its kind to show that the protective effects of bilingualism can extend to people who are illiterate.
The researchers looked at a population of 648 people in India. All had been diagnosed with some form of dementia. Their average age was 66.
When analyzing the data, they found that those who spoke two languages developed dementia about 4½ years later than those who spoke just one language.
The differences persisted whether they were able to read or not. Fourteen percent of those in the study were illiterate.
The later onset of memory loss, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, was also seen regardless of factors such as education, gender, occupation and rural or city residency.
There was no additional protective effect against dementia among people in the study who spoke more than two languages, the study said.