Foreign language learning to promote cognitive flexibility and well-being in healthy seniors and those with Mild Cognitive Impairment

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterAcademic


    The preventative treatment of both subjective and objective cognitive decline is vital in our aging society, considering their association with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias [1]. Strikingly, lifelong bilingualism has been linked to a delay in onset of dementia symptoms, suggesting that bilingualism boosts cognitive reserve [2]. This study assesses whether the introduction of a bilingual experience later in life, through a foreign language course, could serve as an innovative healthy aging tool to promote cognitive functioning and well-being, similar to effects attested in lifelong bilinguals. Such preventative interventions are important especially at the preclinical and prodromal stages of dementia, given the current absence of a curative treatment. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is often considered a transitional, prodromal stage in the continuum between normal aging and dementia and is characterized by objective cognitive decline beyond what is expected for age in one or more cognitive domains, without affecting daily activities [3]. Cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to adapt one’s behavior to changes in the environment, is one of the executive domains that may be impaired in MCI [4], and concern about cognitive impairment has in turn been linked to reduced well-being levels and quality of life [5]. We hypothesize that learning a foreign language has great potential as a preventative measure at this stage, as a new language has been known to interfere with existing languages in the mind early in the acquisition process, requiring cognitive flexibility to solve [6]. Thus, by engaging in foreign language learning, cognitive flexibility and well-being may be enhanced in MCI patients as well as in their neurotypical peers. In this presentation we outline the method underlying this study. Through eye-tracking paradigms and neuropsychological testing we aim to capture the effects that ensue from foreign language learning in MCI and neurotypical seniors. To isolate the contribution of foreign language learning to cognitive flexibility and well-being vis-à-vis other interventions, effects are compared to those that emerge in two additional groups of neurotypical seniors participating in music training (active control condition) or a lecture series (passive control condition). Due to the unique interference process involved in learning a foreign language, it is expected that foreign language learning will boost cognitive flexibility and well-being more than the control conditions. In addition, we predict to see larger improvements in the MCI group than in the neurotypical group. If proven successful, foreign language learning could be considered for the treatment and/or prevention of late-life memory disorders in the future.
    References[1] Parnetti, L., Chipi, E., Salvadori, N., D’Andrea, K., & Eusebi, P. (2019). Prevalence and risk of progression of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease stages: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 11, 7. doi:10.1186/s13195-018-0459-7[2] Alladi, S., Bak, T.H., Duggirala, V., Shailaja, M., Kumar Shukla, A.,…Kaul, S. (2013). Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology, 81, 1-7. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000436620.33155.a4[3] Petersen, R. C. (2004). Mild cognitive impairment as a diagnostic entity. Journal of Internal Medicine, 256, 183-194. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2796.2004.01388.x[4] Traykov, L. Raoux, N., Latour, F., Gallo, L., Hanon, O.,…Rigaud, A. (2007). Executive function deficit in mild cognitive impairment. Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, 20(4), 219-224. doi:10.1097/WNN.0b013e31815e6254[5] Metternich, B., Kosch, D., Kriston, L., Härter, M., & Hüll, M. (2010). The effects of nonpharmacological interventions on subjective memory complaints: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 79(6), 6-19. doi:10.1159/000254901[6] Kroll, J.F., Dussias, P.E., Bice, K., & Perrotti, L. (2015). Bilingualism, mind, and brain. Annual Review of Linguistics, 1, 377-394. doi:10.1146/annurev-linguist-030514-124937
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16-Mar-2020
    EventBilingualism and the Brain - UiT the Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
    Duration: 3-Sep-20204-Sep-2020


    WorkshopBilingualism and the Brain
    Internet address

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