Foreign language learning to boost cognitive flexibility in healthy seniors and those with Mild Cognitive Impairment



The preventative treatment of cognitive decline is vital in our aging society, considering its association with an increased risk of dementia and given the current absence of a curative treatment of the disease. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is often considered a transitional, prodromal stage in the continuum between typical aging and dementia and is characterized by cognitive decline beyond what is expected for age, without affecting daily activities. Cognitive flexibility (i.e., the ability to adapt one’s behavior in response to changes in the environment) is one of the executive domains that may be impaired in MCI, and concern about cognitive impairment has in turn been associated with reduced well-being levels and quality of life. Strikingly, lifelong bilingualism has been linked to a delay in the onset of dementia symptoms, suggesting that bilingualism boosts cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve can be described as the brain’s ability to cope with age-related or pathological changes in the brain, and can be built up by staying mentally active, but also by factors such as (previous) education, diet, and sleep patterns.

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. Crucially, a new language has been shown to interfere with existing languages in the mind early in the acquisition process, which requires cognitive flexibility to solve. 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.

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 or a lecture series.

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. If proven successful, foreign language learning could be considered for the treatment and/or prevention of late-life memory disorders in the future.
Originele taal-2English
StatusPublished - 6-feb.-2020
EvenementBCN Winter Meeting 2020 - UMCG, Groningen, Netherlands
Duur: 6-feb.-20206-feb.-2020


ConferenceBCN Winter Meeting 2020

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