Exploring Language Learning as a Potential Tool against Cognitive Impairment in Late-Life Depression: Two Meta-Analyses and Suggestions for Future Research

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    Abstract

    Late-life depression (LLD) affects about an eighth of community-dwelling seniors. LLD impacts well-being, with loneliness and small social networks being typical. It has also been linked to cognitive dysfunction and an increased risk of developing dementia. Safety and efficacy of pharmacological treatments for LLD have been debated, and cognitive dysfunction often persists even after remission. Various cognitive interventions have been proposed for LLD. Among these, one has received special attention: foreign language learning could serve as a social intervention that simultaneously targets brain structures affected in LLD. Lifelong bilingualism may significantly delay the onset of cognitive impairment symptoms by boosting cognitive reserve. Even late-life foreign language learning without lifelong bilingualism can train cognitive flexibility. It is then counterintuitive that the effects of language learning on LLD have never been examined. In order to create a theoretical basis for further interdisciplinary research, this paper presents a status quo of current work through two meta-analyses investigating cognitive functioning in LLD on the one hand and in senior bilinguals or seniors following a language course on the other hand. While LLD was consistently associated with cognitive dysfunction, inconsistent results were found for bilingualism and language learners. Possible reasons for this and suggestions for future research are subsequently discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number132
    Number of pages36
    JournalBehavioral Sciences
    Volume10
    Issue number9
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 31-Aug-2020

    Keywords

    • late-life depression
    • language learning
    • bilingualism
    • seniors
    • cognitive function
    • meta-analysis
    • systematic review

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