Learning to preserve: foreign language training as a cognitive ‘vaccine’ to prevent old-age disorders?

Saskia Esmee Nijmeijer, M.-J van Tol, Merel Keijzer

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


With the number of older adults reaching record levels, so too does the number of elderly experiencing old age disorders such as mood- and cognitive disorders. Older adults typically have a weakened cognitive flexibility related to cognitive decline or depression. Learning a new foreign language might offer some hope to combating these disorders by increasing cognitive flexibility and could well be among the cognitively stimulating activities – such as playing music and physical activity - that promote healthy aging. It combines being cognitively demanding with socio-affective consequences as it has been shown to improve self-esteem and well-being.
The objective of this study is to determine whether learning a new language affects cognitive flexibility, its neural underpinnings, and improves symptoms of common old-age disorders. We specifically target seniors at risk for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and depression. The effects of an intensive three month foreign language training (n=66) are compared to music training (n=66) and a social intervention (n=66) to control for non-specific cognitive training and social activation effects.
We present preliminary results of the first cohort of participants (n=61) regarding the effects on cognitive flexibility and emotional health. Although not significant, a trend shows that depressive symptoms increased over time for the social control group, whereas the language and music group remained stable. The results of this study can shed light on the ultimate question whether foreign language training in seniors can slow down cognitive aging and reduce vulnerability for old age depression.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventCognitive Aging Conference 2020 - JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead, Atlanta, United States
Duration: 16-Apr-202019-Apr-2020


ConferenceCognitive Aging Conference 2020
Abbreviated titleCAC 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited States

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