Foreign language learning as a potential healthy aging tool to stimulate cognition and well-being in older adults: A randomized controlled study



Although life expectancy in the Western world is increasing, aging healthily is not the default. In order to achieve more (cognitively) healthy years, measures can be taken later in life with the goal to stimulate cognitive functioning and well-being (Kelly et al., 2014; Vranic, 2017), thereby possibly delaying the onset of more severe cognitive decline. Foreign language learning has been suggested to have potential in this respect, not only because language learning is an inherently social activity, but also because brain functions that tend to decline with aging largely overlap with those engaged by language learning (Antoniou et al., 2013). Language learning has also been hypothesized to be unique from other cognitive stimulation activities, considering that regulating the activation of multiple languages in the brain constantly appeals to cognitive control (Bialystok et al., 2012).
This study investigates if a 3-month language learning intervention can serve as an innovative healthy aging tool to promote cognitive functioning and well-being in healthy older adults (n = 15). To isolate the contribution of foreign language learning to cognition and well-being vis-à-vis other cognitively-stimulating activities, effects are compared to those that emerge in two additional groups of older adults participating in music training (active control condition, n = 13) or a lecture series (passive control condition, n = 15). Cognitive functioning and well-being are assessed at pre-intervention, post-intervention and 4-month follow-up using a neuropsychological battery and a reaction time task, and questionnaires, respectively.
At the time of submission, data collection is being finalized. Analysis of the cognitive and well-being data will reveal if language learning is proven (most) successful in enhancing cognitive functioning and/or well-being in older adults. These results can inform us of whether late-life language learning could become a healthy aging tool to attenuate cognitive decline and even delay the onset of late-life memory disorders such as dementia.
Originele taal-2English
StatusPublished - jul.-2023

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