New research published in Annals of Neurology reveals that people who speak two or more languages -- even those who learned the second language as adults -- may slow down cognitive decline from aging.
For the study, researchers relied on data from 835 native speakers of English who were born and living in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland. The participants were given an intelligence test in 1947 at age 11 and then again in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010.
Findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were evident no matter when the second language was learned.
Another study of bilingualism in 2013 found that bilingual patients suffer dementia onset an average of 4.5 years later than those who speak only one language.
But adults aren't the only ones who benefit from learning a new language. A study in 2012 found certain brain functions to be enhanced in teens who are fluent in more than one language. Bilingual youth tend to be better than monolingual kids at multitasking. They also are better at focusing on something, even when there's lots of noise around them.