Edited by Ellen Bialystok and Margot D. Sullivan
[Studies in Bilingualism 53] 2017
► pp. 243–264
Chapter 12. The impact of bilingualism on cognitive ageing and dementia
Finding a path through a forest of confounding variables
Within the current debates on cognitive reserve, cognitive ageing and dementia increasingly showing a positive effect of mental, social and physical activities on health in older age, bilingualism remains one of the most controversial issues. Some reasons for it might be social or even ideological. However, one of the most important genuine problems facing bilingualism research is the high number of potential confounding variables. Bilingual communities often differ from monolingual ones in a range of genetic and environmental variables. In addition, within the same population, bilingual individuals could be different from the outset from those who remain monolingual. We discuss the most common confounding variables in the study of bilingualism, aging and dementia, such as group heterogeneity, migration, social factors, differences in general intelligence and the related issue of reverse causality. We describe different ways in which they can be minimised by the choice of the studied populations and the collected data. In this way, the emerging picture of the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging becomes more complex, but also more convincing.
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