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Learning new skills to improve some cognitive functions in aging

Throughout our life, our brain changes constantly, developing new neurons and connections between them. This ability of our brain to change and adapt is known as brain plasticity.

Some of these changes occur in relation to our daily experiences and activities.

For this reason, cognitively stimulating activities, including participating in training activities or learning new things, can bring changes in the brain and benefits in the cognitive field. These benefits could counteract the changes in our brain that are related to aging, thereby reducing the risk of developing dementia or of losing some cognitive function.

Learning and speaking a new language is one of these activities that can be beneficial for aging.

 

Learning a new language could be beneficial for aging

A recent study by Prof. Bak of the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) suggests that learning a new language could be beneficial for aging.

In this longitudinal cohort study (Lothian Birth Cohort), more than 1,000 people born in 1936 did different cognitive tests when they were 11 years old and over 800 of them did the same tests again when they were 70 years old. Although the study was not originally done to directly study the effects of bilingualism on aging, the large amount of data collected allowed us to study this aspect as well. Despite the fact that none of the participants spoke two languages before the age of 11, a third of them learned a second language at some later stage in their lives.

By dividing participants according to this criterion, the researchers were able to see that people who had at some point learned a second language showed better results in some cognitive functions.

Despite these promising results, the beneficial effect of learning a new language in adulthood is still debated and has not been fully demonstrated. In this regard, a recent study conducted at the Basque Center for Brain and Language in San Sebastian was not able to demonstrate benefits in the ability to resolve interference in people between 60 and 80 years who had done a one-year course in the Basque language.

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