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Being bilingual 'aids stroke recovery'

24 November 2015 09:42

Being bilingual may help the way people recover from strokes

Being bilingual may help the way people recover from strokes

Bilingual stroke victims are far likelier to regain their brain functions than those who can only speak one language, new research suggests.

Researchers say their findings suggest that the mental challenge which goes with speaking more than one language may improve the way the brain deals with strokes, dementia and other damaging influences.

The team - based at the University of Edinburgh and the Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India - studied data from over 600 stroke patients.

They found that among those who speak two or more languages, just over two fifths (40.5%) went on to regain their normal mental functions.

But among stroke victims who only speak one language, the proportion was just under one in five (19.6%), the study shows.

The team factored in patients' ages as well as other things such as smoking, diabetes and blood pressure to make sure their results were not attributed to some having a healthier lifestyle.

Holidaying abroad can help people brush up on their language skills and those recovering from a stroke can cover themselves with a stroke travel insurance policy.

The researchers say the proportion of bilingual patients whose cognitive functions remained intact after their stroke was over twice as high as for monolingual ones. The likelihood of post-stroke cognitive impairments, meanwhile, was higher among those who only speak one language.

The study's co-author, Thomas Bak, says people who are bilingual communicate by inhibiting one language while activating another. Switching between languages, he adds, keeps the brain in almost constant training, which could be a factor in helping people recover from strokes.

Funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the study - the first to examine the relationship between stroke patients' cognitive recovery and the number of languages they speak - has been published in the American Heart Association's Stroke journal.