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01-16-2013, 12:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Danja View Post
Yeah, I don't like the title at all; it's not really accurate. Alzheimer's has a distinct molecular pathology which multilingualism does not address. If you have a predisposing PSEN mutation, learning 1000 languages won't prevent you from accumulating amyloid B fragments, which will eventually kill your neurons. Having a higher cognitive reserve allows you to be a "higher-functioning" Alzheimer's victim, at least for a while, but it won't stop your neurons from dying and the eventual onset of dementia.

I'm not sure you're accounting for what may be happening in the brains of people who were raised as bilinguals, at least to stick to this example. You're born with a certain amount of potential, but how much of that potential you achieve will be influenced by your environment. It may be that bilingual children's brains are forming more synaptic connections, and thus have a greater 'network' of functioning neurons. Thus you will still lose neurons at some rate with a disease like Alzheimer's, but you may retain greater function because you have a better network in place.

An analogy would be that you have roadways between a couple of towns on opposite sides of the river. If there's only one bridge and that bridge is damaged, you obviously can no longer get across. If you have many bridges across the same river, the loss of one has a different effect than the first example.

Now, yes NPR's title does say this may 'prevent' Alzheimer's, but can it mean that you have so many more bridges that the loss of some of them will yield a result that makes the brain appear as if it's not affected? Is the brain creating new connections due to the type of functions being undertaken?

Consider how stroke victims can in some cases re-learn language and functions after the area of the brain controlling those functions before is damaged.

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