Washington DC: A team of researchers has discovered that bilinguals are twice as likely to recover from a stroke compared to their unilingual counterparts.
"People tend to think of Alzheimer's as the only cause of dementia, but they need to know that stroke is also an important cause," said senior investigator Subhash Kaul from Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) in Hyderabad, India.
In the new study, researchers reviewed the records of 608 patients in the NIMS stroke registry in 2006-13. More than half the patients were bilingual, defined in the study as speaking two or more languages. To ensure results weren't due to bilinguals having a healthier lifestyle, researchers took into account other factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and age. They found about 40 percent of bilingual patients had normal cognitive functions following a stroke, compared to about 20 percent of single language patients.
Bilinguals performed better on post-stroke tests that measured attention, and ability to retrieve and organize information.
Surprisingly, there was no difference between bilinguals and those who spoke one language in the likelihood of experiencing aphasia, a disorder that can cause difficulties in speaking, reading and writing, after a stroke.
The advantage of bilingualism is that it makes people switch from one language to another, so while they inhibit one language, they have to activate another to communicate, said lead author Suvarna Alladi.
The study appears in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.