Linking early-life bilingualism and cognitive advantage in older adulthood

DELCODE study group, Tommaso Ballarini, Elizabeth Kuhn, Sandra Röske, Slawek Altenstein, Claudia Bartels, Friederike Buchholz, Katharina Buerger, Peter Dechent, Laura Dobisch, Michael Ewers, Klaus Fliessbach, Silka Dawn Freiesleben, Ingo Frommann, Tatjana Gabelin, Wenzel Glanz, Doreen Görß, John Dylan Haynes, Enise I Incesoy, Daniel JanowitzIngo Kilimann, Luca Kleineidam, Xenia Kobeleva, Christoph Laske, Andrea Lohse, Franziska Maier, Matthias H Munk, Robert Perneczky, Oliver Peters, Josef Priller, Boris-Stephan Rauchmann, Nina Roy, Klaus Scheffler, Anja Schneider, Björn H Schott, Annika Spottke, Eike Jakob Spruth, Stefan Teipel, Jens Wiltfang, Steffen Wolfsgruber, Emrah Düzel, Frank Jessen, Michael Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Previous studies have identified bilingualism as a protective factor against dementia. Here we aimed to test whether being bilingual at different life stages impacts cognition and brain structure in older adulthood. We included 746 participants from the DZNE-Longitudinal Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Study (DELCODE). Assessment of bilingualism at 3 life stages (early: 13-30, middle: 30-65 and late: over 65 years old) was determined with the Lifetime of Experiences Questionnaire. Individuals reporting bilingualism (i.e., daily use of L2) in the early life stage outperformed monolinguals on learning & memory, working-memory, executive functions and language. Bilingualism in middle life stage showed a significant advantage on learning & memory, while no effect of bilingualism in old life stage was identified. Brain gray matter volume was not associated with L2 use and did not differ between groups. However, stronger correlations between brain gray matter volume in selected brain regions and cognitive performance were found in bilingual participants in the early and middle life stages. Our results indicate that bilingualism in early life might provide a long-lasting protective effect on cognition and shape the brain to sustain cognitive performance in older adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-28
Number of pages11
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Humans
  • Aged
  • Multilingualism
  • Cognition
  • Executive Function
  • Brain
  • Dementia


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