Being bilingual might be good for the brain’s health and can potential ward off cognitive impairment that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study in the journal Neuropsychologia says people with that form of dementia who know more than one language show differences in their brains structures as compared to patients who are not multilingual, specifically in their cerebral cortex and gray matter. Brain scans showed they had an increased cortical thickness and higher-density gray matter than their monolingual counterparts, which is significant because people with Alzheimer’s tend to show the opposite trend.

The researchers focused on areas in the brain’s frontal regions that are linked to language, memory and cognition, including those that “ are brain areas known to atrophy” in people with Alzheimer’s, Concordia University explained in a statement.

The study jumps off of previous findings that indicate being multilingual could boost gray matter and ward off cognitive decline in otherwise healthy people.

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Brain scans show that bilingual people have an advantage over those who only speak one language. CC0 Creative Commons

According to the paper, knowing more than one language also served as a defense against mild cognitive impairment, a condition which puts people at risk for Alzheimer’s, with their brain scans revealing boosted cortical thickness over monolingual patients.

The high-resolution brain scans were taken of almost 50 multilingual patients and almost 50 monolingual patients.

“Our new study contributes to the hypothesis that having two languages exercises specific brain regions and can increase cortical thickness and gray matter density,” researcher Natalie Phillips said in the university statement. “ Speaking more than one language is one of a number of lifestyle factors that contributes to cognitive reserve.”

According to Phillips, her team is further investigating the findings, looking into whether “multilingual people are able to compensate for [Alzheimer’s]-related tissue loss by accessing alternative networks or other brain regions for memory processing.”

Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, difficulty planning or completing tasks, losing track of time and changes in mood.

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