Bilingual speakers may benefit from protection against cognitive decline in multiple sclerosis, a new study indicates.

“This is the first study that we’re aware of that has tested the idea that there is an advantage for bilinguals when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases such as MS. While most studies analyze clinical records of patients with dementia, our study has directly compared four groups of people and reveals a significant cognitive boost for MS patients who speak multiple languages compared to their single language peers,"

said lead author Dr. Fraibet Aveledo, a lecturer in child language development and bilingualism from the University of Reading.

Cognitive Monitoring

Researchers looked at groups of bilingual and monolingual speakers who were being treated for multiple sclerosis. The team found[1] that the bilingual patients scored similarly to healthy participants, while patients who only had fluency in one language performed worse than the monolingual control.

The study took matched groups of bilingual and monolingual MS patients from the Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid and matched them to ensure that measures of cognitive decline were similar.

The subsequent tests examined levels of cognitive ‘monitoring’ relating to attention and the evaluation of behavior, and the team found that bilingual patients and control groups who didn’t have MS scored similarly on the tests, while there was a significant difference between monolingual patients and their control.

“People with MS want to work to improve their daily-basis functioning, and studies like this one offer new information about how to build-up their cognitive reserve from early stages. As researchers this collaborative project with Reading University was an excellent opportunity to think about the role that linguistics plays in managing MS,"

commented Dra. Yolanda Higueras, a neuropsychologist in Dra. Marisa Martínez-Ginés´ MS Unit at Gregorio Marañón Hospital.

[1] Fraibet Aveledo, et al. Multiple sclerosis and bilingualism.

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