Language skills, learning may help reverse cognitive decline

Language skills, learning may help reverse cognitive decline

Dementia is one of the most common syndromes affecting people across the world. Every year, 10 million cases are discovered — and there is no cure. Although dementia impairs thinking, memory and communication, among other cognitive functions, mild cognitive impairment is not always synonymous with development of the syndrome.

Now, a group of international researchers from the United States, Canada, and China are adding to a growing body of evidence that mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, as the name implies, is a slight decline in mental function, not a precursor to eventual dementia.

The study looked at a niche group of people: nuns. Due to the population in question, researchers were able to achieve a more than succinct look at people of one gender with similar upbringings, education and life experiences.

Even when adjusting for age and genetics, which are typical risk factors for developing the syndrome, researchers found that higher levels of education more than doubled the probability that people experiencing MCI would experience their brain’s return to business-as-usual. Participants with higher English grades, for example, were more likely to return to their typical mental functioning.

In fact, these “reverse transitions” happened more often than the onset of dementia in people who were younger and possessed a high level of language skills and academic achievement.

Because the study looked at such a specific group of people, future research in this area will likely cast a wider net. For now, consider joining a book club — or say a quick thanks to those pesky high school English teachers who had the gall to assign you summer reading. It just may have paid off.

Related Episodes