Lifelong bilingualism may delay dementia

Ellen Bialystok, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, was interviewed on CTV ‘s popular Canada AM morning show Jan. 12 about her research that shows being bilingual can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by up to four years. Below is an excerpt from the interview with CTV’s Beverly Thomson.

Thomson: It’s fascinating to think that if you speak two languages you could actually possibly stave off any kind of dementia, even Alzheimer’s.

Bialystok: That’s right. But by speaking two languages, by being bilingual, what I mean is lifelong, complete bilingualism, people who really speak two languages every day, normally, routinely, as part of their lives. Because in the process of using language and using two languages, you are engaging parts of your brain, parts of your mind, that are active and need that kind of constant exercise and activity, and with that experience stay more robust.

Thomson: What happens if, for example, dementia has started and somebody is at that point engaged in learning a brand-new language or trying to become bilingual?

Bialystok: I think it’s probably too late. The criteria that we use in all of our research is people who have been bilingual all their lives or most of their lives. So, it’s a lifetime of experience. And it builds up over many, many years to produce these kinds of protective effects.

  • "Our study found that speaking two languages throughout one’s life appears to be associated with a delay in the onset of symptoms of dementia by four years compared to those who speak only one language," said Bialystok, in an Agence France-Presse story in the Calgary Herald Jan. 13.

Monolingual patients showed evidence of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia at 71.4 years of age on average, while the bilingual group manifested symptoms at 75.5 years. This difference remained even after considering the possible effects of cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and gender on the results. The results will be published in the February issue of Neuropsychologia.

At 91, rights activist fights the good fight

It’s a long way from his apartment overlooking Toronto’s Distillery District to the trenches of the civil rights battles where mathematician Lee Lorch fought half a century ago across the United States, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 15. The retired York University professor, now a Canadian citizen, is humble about the work for which he recently won his latest kudo: the Mathematical Association of America’s prestigious Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service, [including his fight against racism that began after the Second World War and cost him teaching jobs in the US].

He continues to be recognized for the stands he took all those years ago. And he’s still fighting. Travelling to New Orleans recently to collect his latest human rights award, he slammed conference organizers for not having black professors on a panel about Hurricane Katrina’s effect on local universities. Lorch still has fight left in him. He supports aboriginal friendship centres and has been involved with the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. He is concerned about lingering racism in Toronto and Canada’s controversial "security certificates" against those considered national security threats. "I do regret being driven out of my own country," he says, "but there’s still a lot to be done here."

Bringing healing to Africa’s children

Former York student Natalie Angell has dreamed of Africa since she was a child, reported The Tri-City News (Coquitlam, BC) Jan. 14 . In a couple of weeks, the dream will become reality when the 24-year-old Coquitlam woman packs her bags – including a one-way ticket – and boards a flight to Uganda. "I’ve always had a passion for development," said the soft-spoken Angell. "Even when I was a young child I had visions of Africa, I always had dream of moving there and opening an orphanage." She plans to work with orphanages and grassroots organizations, starting in southern Uganda, using traditional healing methods like movement therapy and restorative yoga to "release blocked energy and past painful memories."

Deck is stacked against our youth

In their letters to the Portfolio Doctor, plenty of readers directed considerable vitriol at the vicissitudes of today’s youth, but there was also a surprising consensus around the notion that young people are swimming against some pretty powerful economic tides, wrote David Cruise in the Toronto Star, Jan. 14. Anthony, a fourth-year student at York University, concedes that some of his contemporaries are irresponsible with money – "utter stupidity" he calls it – but maintains that the deck is stacked against frugal hard workers. "No student in this day and age can survive on $10 an hour, let alone $8. But I guess this is fine with our society that our youth keeps falling into the debt traps that have been set up for them. What I think needs to be done to help ease the problem is increasing the minimum wage; the increase this year just won’t cut it."

On air

  • Sisters Linda and Nancy Leoni, who are both York students, spoke about a friend who was robbed and beaten outside the same Acapulco nightclub where a Toronto man was found dead last week, on Barrie’s CKVR television and on Toronto’s 680 News Radio.
  • Maria Joao Dodman, professor in the Department of Languages, Literature & Linguistics in York’s Faculty of Arts, and York student Eduarda Bettencourt, spoke about Dodmans’s new course on Azorean culture, on CFMT’s Portuguese news program “Telejournal” Jan. 12.
  • Roger Keil, director of the City Institute at York and a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about “The Culture of 905 Suburbia” as revealed by various demographic studies, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Jan. 12.