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Better Language Skills May Mean Less Dementia

Posted by bmagnus On July - 10 - 2009

The latest news from research known as The Nun Study indicates that women who displayed better language skills in their 20s had lower incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia. And the important part is that this even held true even when their brains showed signs of Alzheimer’s at autopsy.

The Nun Study is an ongoing project involving over 600 women aged 75-106 years, who are all members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame religious congregation. Nuns are ideal subjects for a study on aging because they lead similar lives. They live in one environment, eat mostly the same food, don’t smoke, engage in similar activities, have the same sexual history, and access to the same kind of medical care. Because so many things are similar or the same, researchers can more easily focus on the things that are really different. However, in the grand scheme of things it is not a large study and the participants do not have a very diverse racial, national, or genetic background.

This particular finding involved 38 participants whose brains were examined after death — a very small sample size — but according to researchers, not the first time such a finding has been noted. Symptoms of dementia late in life were compared with the lingual complexity of essays written by the women when they were in their 20s. Those whose essays displayed more sophisticated use of language were generally at lower risk of dementia.

A leading theory is that exercising the brain early will help it remain strong later. It is worth pointing out that quality writing is no insurance policy, as some prominent published authors have succumbed to dementia in recent decades. Nevertheless, good language skills will help people throughout their lifetimes, regardless of whether these skills actually keep the brain running well.

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