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Being bilingual could double your chances of recovering from a stroke

By Marta Cooper

The benefits of bilingualism are seemingly endless. There are the linguistic and social skills that come from switching between multiple languages and cultures, and there is an emerging body of research on the impact it can have on our cognitive abilities.

A new study now suggests that the practice of speaking two languages could also help protect the brain in the event of a stroke.

Researchers from the UK and India studied more than 600 stroke patients in Hyderabad, India—a city in which multiple languages are commonly spoken—and found that those who spoke more than one language had double the chance of recovering from the condition than those who spoke only one language.

Cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and visuospatial skills were examined. Even after taking into account variables such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and age, the researchers found that 40% of the bilingual subjects recovered their normal cognitive function following a stroke, versus 20% of the monolingual patients.

Thomas Bak, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and a co-author of the study, explains:

Bilingualism makes people to switch from one language to another, so while they inhibit one language, they have to activate another to communicate. This switching offers practically constant brain training which may be a factor in helping stroke patients recover.

Previous work by the same set of researchers in 2013 found that bilingual people who develop dementia tend to do so up to five years later than those who are monolingual. However, despite the initially positive outcomes of these two studies, researchers note that “more is needed to determine the exact circumstances under which bilingualism can have a positive influence on mental functions.”