Daily newspaper Die Welt reported on Friday that years of speaking two or more languages can have a physical effect on the brain, as years of stashing extra vocabulary increases memory.
As the brain ages, the capacity developed to think in another language means it can call on its increased memory-bank to stem the onset of mentally degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
While it may seem daunting, learning German could hold back dementia symptoms for three to four years in an average case, American and Canadian scientists said in the March edition of the “Trends in Cognitive Sciences” journal.
“It's not surprising that years of speaking another language leaves traces in the brain,” said Ellen Bialystok, lead author of the study. She added that jumping back and forth between languages played a large part in heightening mental flexibility.
The study compared brain scans, and symptoms of Alzheimer's patients. People with a second language often had fewer dementia symptoms, even if they had worse brain damage than those with just their mother tongue.
“This supports the idea that these people can handle the disease better and live longer without symptoms,” said Bialystok, based at York University, Canada.
Researchers said that the earlier someone cracks open a textbook, the more chance they have of developing mental armour against Alzheimer's.