York prof’s report on Alzheimer’s and bilingualism makes world headlines

Mastering a second language can pump up your brain in ways that seem to delay getting Alzheimer’s disease later on, scientists said Friday, wrote The Associated Press and The Canadian Press Feb. 18, in a story that was featured in reports by more than 300 newspapers, television stations and radio stations around the world.

The more proficient you become, the better, but "every little bit helps," said Ellen Bialystok, a psychology professor at York University [Faculty of Health].

Much of the study of bilingualism has centered on babies, as scientists wondered why simply speaking to infants in two languages allows them to learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one. Their brains seem to become more flexible, better able to multi-task. As they grow up, their brains show better "executive control," a system key to higher functioning – as Bialystok puts it, "the most important part of your mind."

Bialystok studied 450 Alzheimer’s patients, all of whom showed the same degree of impairment at the time of diagnosis. Half are bilingual – they’ve spoken two languages regularly for most of their lives. The rest are monolingual.

The bilingual patients had Alzheimer’s symptoms and were diagnosed between four and five years later than the patients who spoke only one language, she told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Being bilingual does nothing to prevent Alzheimer’s disease from striking. But once the disease does begin its silent attack, those years of robust executive control provide a buffer so that symptoms don’t become apparent as quickly, Bialystok said. "They’ve been able to cope with the disease," she said.

Her work supports an earlier study from other researchers that also found a protective effect.

But people don’t have to master a new language to benefit some, Bialystok said. Exercising your brain throughout life contributes to what’s called "cognitive reserve", the overall ability to withstand the declines of aging and disease. That’s the basis of the use-it-or-lose-it advice from aging experts, who also recommend such things as crossword puzzles to keep your brain nimble. "If you start to learn at 40, 50, 60, you are certainly keeping your brain active," she said.

  • Newspapers and online news sites around the world reported on Bialystok’s lecture remarks, including media across Canada, the US, Australia, Bangladesh, China, England, Iran, Ireland, India, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Qatar, South Africa, Scotland and Wales. 
  • Bialystok’s study was also features in stories on radio and television stations around the world, including major networks in the US and Canada.

Public in dark on effects of oil development off Grand Banks, says York expert

The Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Canadian governments are reviewing a section of the Atlantic Accords that critics say lets offshore oil and gas operators veto a wide swath of information from being released publicly, including environmental and safety data, wrote Ottawa’s The Hill Times, Feb. 22. Meanwhile, as governments keep talking, operators continue to use the controversial section to block access to information.

Gail Fraser, a biologist and professor in the [Faculty of Environmental Studies] at York University  in Toronto, placed five access to information requests in 2007 with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, a joint federal-provincial body that regulates oil and gas drilling and production off the Newfoundland coast. The board cited the same section of the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act to deny all five requests: Section 119(2).

But Fraser said she wasn’t asking for proprietary information, just environmental data about the frequency of oil sheens, for instance, and other pollutant information so she could compare the environmental effects predicted in the environmental assessments of oil production operations  to what’s actually happening. “The government is permitting oil and gas operators to operate in a public domain. And the waste involved in these developments is huge. And so it’s important for the public to understand what are the effects of those wastes. And so, you can’t,” she said in a phone interview with The Hill Times.

“Right now, the public is essentially in the dark as to the effects of oil development in the Grand Banks (off the Newfoundland coast).”

While there is obviously information that would make sense from a business perspective to not release publicly, said Fraser, she would like to see Section 119(2) scrapped and revised so that it is not applied to environmental and safety information. The Newfoundland and Nova Scotia boards have written to the federal and provincial ministers responsible for energy to ask them to review the section in Atlantic Accords, something Fraser welcomed.

Meanwhile, Fraser submitted another set of access to information requests to the Newfoundland board earlier this month and said she’s not hopeful she’ll get what she wants.

Multiculturalism successful in Canada, says York prof

Declarations by European leaders that multiculturalism is a failure are not applicable to York Region, academics and immigration advocates said, wrote the Aurora Banner, Feb. 18.

The dialogue sparked by the leaders mystifies York University City Institute director Roger Keil, himself a newcomer from his native Germany in the 1990s. “I’m puzzled (that) the national debate in Central and Western Europe is a point of reference in Canada,” he said. “Those making the comments have a specific agenda. They’re right wing and are under various influences, some fascist.”

Citing France’s republic, Germany’s federation and Italy’s struggles to define itself during a wave of Tunisian immigration, Keil said Canada demonstrates vastly different policies and history.

Our welcoming nature and immigration policies have created a critical mass of socio-ethno cultural groups, creating a mosaic of diversity that outweighs influences by camps and enclaves found in Europe, Keil said. “Europe has a different political spectrum,” he said. “They have outspoken nationalists pushed by fascist forces stirring up unrest. We don’t see those forces operating in York Region.”

Turkish skater feels at home in Barrie

When the first indoor ice rink opened in Turkey in 1990, [York student] Tugba Karademir and her kindergarten classmates embarked on a school trip to the new facility, where the youngsters were encouraged to strap on blades and sign up for a new figure skating program, wrote The Barrie Examiner Feb. 19.

Young Tugba, who was already taking ballet lessons, fell in love with the ‘new’ sport and signed up for an expanded program once the introductory classes ended. “I just loved the freedom of being on the ice and they played loud pop music – I loved it from Day 1,” she said.

Her parents, who enjoyed a middle- to upper-class life in Turkey, faced a tough, potentially life-altering decision: let the dream die, or do everything in their power to help their only child chase her Olympic-sized goals. They chose the latter.

Tugba’s mom explored the options, deciding that figure-skating powerhouses like Russia, the United States and Canada were the best bets for success. Russia did not appeal to the family and, after some investigation, it was determined it would take several years to immigrate to the US – years a blossoming young star could not afford to let slip away. “So, my mom and dad filled out the application to immigrate to Canada and seven months later, we were here,” recalls Tugba, who was just 11 years old when she and her mother landed at Pearson International Airport.

Schulich in top 20 global MBAs

York University’s Schulich School of Business has placed 18th in the world and first in Canada in a global MBA survey by Expansion magazine, a Mexican-based business publication, wrote 24 Hours Feb. 22.

Schulich’s ranking is the highest ever attained by a Canadian business school in the survey, and this is the second consecutive year in which Schulich has made the top 20.

Volunteers want Finch LRT plan back on track

Mayor Rob Ford has been criticized since announcing the end of Transit City, a move that derailed the LRT that was in the plans of former mayor David Miller, wrote the Toronto Sun Feb. 19, in a story about a petition campaign in Ward 8 to restore the plan.

“It’s really overcrowded, and then what happens because of traffic you’ll see three buses lined up waiting to go and two of them will get filled and one will be empty,” said Vanessa Hunt, vice-president of campus life for the York Federation of Students. “Then there will be no bus along the line for 45 minutes, and people are stuck in the cold waiting,” she said, after a couple hours of door-knocking.

Hunt said that she got a lot of mixed reactions when speaking with people about the LRT, but the most common response was concern. “A gentleman who lived in a house with some people and has lived in the area for awhile said, ‘everytime something great is supposed to happen in this area they shut it down, and I’m tired of it,’” Hunt said.

On air

  • Darshika Selvasivam, vice-president of campaigns & advocacy for the York Federation of Students, spoke about a police officer’s apology to female students, on Toronto’s 680 News Radio and a radio station in Moncton, NB, Feb. 18. The incident, in which the officer said women could avoid being raped if they would stop dressing “like sluts”, was reported on CTS TV, Global TV in Hamilton, CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” and other radio stations in Toronto. Joey Hoffman, a student in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, where the incident occurred, discussed it on CityTV’s “Breakfast Television” Feb. 21.
  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the power of solar flares to disrupt hydro electric power, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” Feb. 18.
  • Ian Roberge, Glendon political science professor, spoke about the upcoming provincial election on CBLFT-TV in Toronto and Radio Canada in Ottawa Feb. 21.
  • Austin Clarkson, professor emeritus of music in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about the importance of music and art education on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Feb. 21.