Speaking two languages throughout life may slow the loss of mental agility that comes with age.
When seniors were challenged to switch between two basic thought tasks, bilinguals reacted more quickly than those who spoke only English. What's more, imaging scans showed that older people who had always spoken two languages used their brains more efficiently than single-language speakers.
The findings add to growing evidence that, along with other mentally stimulating activities, speaking multiple languages from a young age can help buffer the brain from aging-related declines.
Bilingualism "doesn't make you young like a young adult, but it makes you faster than your peers who only speak one language," said Brian Gold, a neuroscientist at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.
"For a long time, sending your kids to school in another language was something that people thought suspiciously about," he added. "Not only is that not true, sending your kids to immersion schools is a good thing. If they can keep it up, it will not only help them as a child. It will also help them as they age."