This Concordia University study focused specifically on the effects of knowing a second language for patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI; at risk for AD). Their study is innovative because previous studies had only focused on healthy young or healthy older adults.
According to Natalie Philips, a professor in the Department of Psychology, “having two languages exercises specific brain regions, can increase cortical thickness and grey matter density”. The proof of this can be seen through the structural differences seen in the brains of multilingual AD and MCI patients.
This study was distinct from others because it was the first to use MRI data and sophisticated analysis techniques to measure cortical thickness and density of the tissues with specific brain areas. Phillips believes their study is the first to “assess the structure of MCI and AD patients language and cognition control regions,” as well as the first to make an association between those regions of the brain and memory function in these groups of people.
The results from Phillips study contribute to previous research that indicated speaking more than one language is one of many factors that contribute to cognitive reserve. The research supports the notion that multilingualism and its associated cognitive and sociocultural benefits are associated with brain plasticity, according to Phillips.
This study also suggests that multilingual people are able to compensate for AD-related tissue loss by accessing alternative networks of other brain regions for memory processing, stated by Phillips.