If you learned more than one language as a child or remember enough high school Spanish or French, like Mike, or German, Chinese, and Turkish, like Mehmet, to get the gist of foreign-language TV shows, you’ve got a powerful anti-Alzheimer’s advantage. Being bilingual s-l-o-w-s down the development of dementia. Knowing three or more languages reduces your risk even further.
The ability to chat in Thai, Greek, or Arabic is good for more than ordering coffee abroad. Growing up with several languages builds more brain cells and improves their connections. It also makes your brain work harder all the time as you process information. This adds up to more “cognitive reserve,” medspeak for extra mental capacity that allows your mind to continue functioning normally, even when it’s developing brain changes that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s great news if you’re among the nearly one in four Americans and Canadians who can converse in at least two languages. But you’re not out of luck if you can’t. Learning a new language as an adult or picking up where 10th grade Spanish left off exercises your brain cells in ways that guard against memory loss and fuzzy thinking. It’s a great reason to sign up for Russian 101, check out teach-yourself CDs and computer programs, and take advantage of all the TV movies, news programs, and soap operas available in many languages on cable. (Finally, those 1,500 channels will pay off!) For extra credit, stretch your brain further by picking a language that has little in common with English. Think Chinese, Korean, or Japanese