AbstractPurpose of review
We discuss the role of bilingualism as a source of cognitive reserve and we propose the putative neural mechanisms through which lifelong bilingualism leads to a neural reserve that delays the onset of dementia.Recent findings
Recent findings highlight that the use of more than one language affects the human brain in terms of anatomo-structural changes. It is noteworthy that recent evidence from different places and cultures throughout the world points to a significant delay of dementia onset in bilingual/multilingual individuals. This delay has been reported not only for Alzheimer's dementia and its prodromal mild cognitive impairment phase, but also for other dementias such as vascular and fronto-temporal dementia, and was found to be independent of literacy, education and immigrant status.Summary
Lifelong bilingualism represents a powerful cognitive reserve delaying the onset of dementia by approximately 4 years. As to the causal mechanism, because speaking more than one language heavily relies upon executive control and attention, brain systems handling these functions are more developed in bilinguals resulting in increases of gray and white matter densities that may help protect from dementia onset. These neurocognitive benefits are even more prominent when second language proficiency and exposure are kept high throughout life.