New Study Finds a Strong Contribution of Bilingualism to Prevent Cognitive Decline

A key concept when discussing the prevention or mitigation of cognitive aging is that of cognitive reserve. CR is defined as the discrepancy between the expected and observed levels of cognitive impairment, given the observed level of age-related neuropathology or brain disruption.

CR is the individual ability to compensate for age-related neural deterioration and maintain optimal cognitive functioning. Many lifestyle factors have been suggested to promote successful aging by means of CR development, and bilingualism has been implicated as one of them. 

Recently, a team of researchers has investigated the contribution of bilingual experience to the development of this cognitive reserve. The results appear in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. 

Bilingualism Effect on Cognitive Reserve and Healthy Aging 

The study included a total of 64 healthy older adults (mean age 64.7) that were recruited via social media platforms and through the research recruitment platform Prolific. 

Requirements to participate in the study included at-least-partial knowledge of a second language (L2) and being aged 60 or above. Participants were screened for the presence of psychiatric or neurological impairments and those with a history of such impairments were removed from the analysis.

The study analyses revealed facilitatory effects of both second language age of acquisition and second language proficiency on executive performance. Also, the analyses confirmed the moderating role of bilingual experience on the relationship between other factors known to promote CR and cognitive integrity. 

The results of the study provided more evidence that supports the notion that bilingualism plays an important role in mitigating cognitive decline, while also promoting successful aging. 

“When a person has an accent, it means he can speak one more language than you.”

— Fernando Lamas.


Federico Gallo, et al. Add Bilingualism to the Mix: L2 Proficiency Modulates the Effect of Cognitive Reserve Proxies on Executive Performance in Healthy Aging. 2022. Front. Psychol. 

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