Dementia is a condition that affects memory, thinking and social abilities. It leads to a deterioration of cognitive functioning and interferes with daily functioning. Since older adults are considered to be an asset, learning more about dementia is important. Researchers have tried to see the different factors that contribute to cognitive reserve, a reserve that helps in reducing the effects of cognitive decline.
Some researchers have found that the use of more than one language can be helpful in developing a better cognitive reserve (Alladi et al., 2013; 2016). It is also important to note here that cognitive functioning can be measured in different ways – a common method used by cognitive scientists is the comparison of two groups in some tasks that captures certain functions such as attention, executive control, switching ability, etc.
A study conducted by Bak, Long, Vega-Mendoza and Sorace (2016) tried to see the effect of intensive language training on attention. They tried to see if learning a new language that is different from the know language had any effects on attentional functions. They recruited 76 people for the study and divided them into two groups – the training group (n = 36) and the control group (n = 40). Only the training group received the language training.
The control group was categorized into two – active controls (who received intensive training in already known language, art and documentary course) and passive controls who were not enrolled in any intensive course. The training group received a one week intensive training in Gaelic language. All the participants were tested before and after the training.
The tests used by the researchers include the Test of Everyday Attention – which consists of the Elevator task, Elevator task with Distraction and Elevator task with Reversal. These tasks measured attentional components such as sustained attention, selective attention and attentional switching. They found that both the groups (training and control) differed significantly only in the Elevator task with reversal and also a significance difference between the pre and the post test.
They also found that training group performed better than the passive control group. A follow-up study was conducted after 9 months. The overall results showed that practice/use of a language has an effect on attention and that this can be sustained.
The study has a sound method. They have considered the pre-test post-test design which is important in understanding the effect of some kind of training. One of the limitation of the study is the time duration of the course. The time duration was very short and it can be the motivational factors (that being enrolled in a study) that contributed to the overall results. The study should also take into consideration various variables that can contribute to the task performance – especially in the case of the follow-up study. Carefully controlled studies are difficult to carry out and an effort to do so should be appreciated. This study is of great importance as it can contribute to policy-related decisions on teaching a second language in schools and colleges.