Bilingualism provides a neural reserve for aging populations

Neuropsychologia. 2015 Mar;69:201-10. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.01.040. Epub 2015 Jan 28.


It has been postulated that bilingualism may act as a cognitive reserve and recent behavioral evidence shows that bilinguals are diagnosed with dementia about 4-5 years later compared to monolinguals. In the present study, we investigated the neural basis of these putative protective effects in a group of aging bilinguals as compared to a matched monolingual control group. For this purpose, participants completed the Erikson Flanker task and their performance was correlated to gray matter (GM) volume in order to investigate if cognitive performance predicts GM volume specifically in areas affected by aging. We performed an ex-Gaussian analysis on the resulting RTs and report that aging bilinguals performed better than aging monolinguals on the Flanker task. Bilingualism was overall associated with increased GM in the ACC. Likewise, aging induced effects upon performance correlated only for monolinguals to decreased gray matter in the DLPFC. Taken together, these neural regions might underlie the benefits of bilingualism and act as a neural reserve that protects against the cognitive decline that occurs during aging.

Keywords: Bilingualism; Cognitive reserve; Ex-Gaussian analysis; Neural reserve; Voxel based morphometry.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Brain* / pathology
  • Cognitive Reserve*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilingualism*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Organ Size
  • Reaction Time