From improving social life to opening more job opportunities, bilingualism has always had its pros. A new study has found that speaking two languages daily from a young age may guard you against developing dementia later in life.

Researchers in Germany determined that bilingual people scored better at learning, memory, language and self-control tests than patients who spoke only one language.

Researchers had earlier found associations between bilingualism and dementia. The new study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, evaluated how being bilingual at different life stages impacts cognition and brain structure in older adulthood.

"Bilingualism may act as a protective factor against cognitive decline and dementia. In particular, we observed that speaking 2 languages daily, especially in the early and middle life stages might have a long-lasting effect on cognition and its neural correlates," the researchers wrote.

They tested 746 people aged 59 to 76 – 40% of them had no memory problems, while the rest were patients at memory clinics or people with complaints of confusion or memory loss.

The participants were evaluated based on a variety of vocabulary, memory, attention and calculation tests. The tasks included recalling previously named objects, spelling words backward and copying designs presented to them.

The participants who reported using a second language daily when they were aged between 13 and 30 or between 30 and 65 showed higher scores on language, memory, focus, attention and decision-making abilities compared to those who were not bilingual.

Scientists believe the ability of bilinguals to switch between two languages is the key factor that makes them better at cognitive skills such as multitasking, managing emotions and self-control, which eventually protects them from dementia.

"The advantages of being bilingual do not stem from the mere knowledge of L2 vocabulary and rules, but rather from appropriate and frequent switching between languages, which demands a high cognitive control to inhibit potential interferences between languages," the researchers added.

The study evaluated only the aspect of using two languages every day for long periods. The researchers warn the positive impact on cognitive abilities may also be due to other factors, such as the age at which the languages were encoded into memory, or the demographic or life experiences of people who happen to be bilingual.

For people who wish to delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, learning a second language may be just the training their brain needs. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock