Older adults looking for a fun senior activity that is not only enjoyable but can keep their brains healthy and promote senior independence should consider learning a new language.

The ability to speak more than one language could help adults think more clearly later in life, especially if you learn a second language as an adult, according to a study recently published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

“In previous studies, if bilinguals got dementia they got it 4 to 5 years later than monolinguals,” author Dr. Thomas Bak of the University of Edinburgh Center for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology, said in Reuters.

Bak and his colleagues used existing information from 853 participants who took an intelligence test at age 11 in 1947, and were retested between 2008 and 2010 while they were in their 70s. Of the total, 262 had learned a second language (after English), most of them before age 18, but only 90 individuals continued to actively use the language in 2008. Those who did learn another language scored higher on reading, general intelligence and verbal fluency in their later years than their counterparts who only spoke English.

The connection was the same for the 65 participants who learned a second language after age 18, and the link strengthened with a third, fourth and fifth language.

“This is a nice study that adds to the body of literature trying to figure out exactly the conditions under which bilingualism improves cognitive function,” Dr. Ellen Bialystok, a professor and bilingualism expert at York University in Toronto, told LiveScience.

Fergus Craik a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest academic health sciences center, affiliated with the University of Toronto, told Reuters that learning a second language helps with mental functions that are connected to the frontal lobe of the brain.

“It does improve fluid intelligence and ‘executive functioning,’ because you have to control the two languages you know,” he said. “While you communicate in one language you’ve got to manage and control the other language.”

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