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01-16-2013, 01:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Fugu View Post
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.
I completely agree with you that environment affects the brain's cellular development and it's not a logical stretch to suggest that a task as complicated as learning two sets of languages would result in forming more neural synapses, which would make the brain more resistant to dementia on the whole. My objection to the article is with the use of "prevent" and "Alzheimer's".

People who are familiar with the molecular biology and pathology of AD can see right away that there's a logical disconnect between "learning new languages" and "preventing Alzheimer's". It's like saying that gas makes a car run; if you tell that to a mechanical engineer they will already have the background to understand the passage of fuel through the engine which couples one concept to the other. However, if you tell that to someone who has never learned how a car works, they might try to buy canisters of gasoline and put them in the trunk, and then be surprised that the car isn't moving.

In the case of the article, it's the reporter's job to learn about the facts of the study before disseminating them. Otherwise, you can have people (particularly those with Alzheimer's in the family) saying

Originally Posted by Jafar View Post
Good.I'm safe.
or something similar by drawing incorrect conclusions. If the title had been "Speaking more than one language could diminish dementia symptoms", it would have been accurate and informative. However, by using "prevent" and "Alzheimer's", the author performs a logical quantum leap; the paper doesn't seem to show bilingualism "prevents" anything (at least when I skimmed it) and as I said, the only place "Alzheimer's" appears is in the citation. That's my beef. I would expect this kind of writing from a pop-sci blog or small web site, but I had more faith in NPR's fact checking.

edit: For full disclosure, I'm by no means a doctor or expert on AD. I'm just a grad student who recently started an AD-related project and consequently did some intensive literature research on how the disease works.

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