Adaptive control and language regulation in older bilinguals: Merging the evidence from training studies and dementia

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Submission Summary
Two separate lines of research have considered how bilingualism might protect older adults against cognitive and neural decline and what consequences are observed when older adults learn a new language. Here we bring these together to ask how cognitive control and language regulation processes function in each domain.
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A set of provocative findings about older bilinguals has focused on the observation that learning and using two or more languages may provide protection against both healthy and pathological cognitive decline in aging. Older bilinguals show evidence of more gradual cognitive and neural decline than aged matched monolingual counterparts. At the same time, recent studies suggest that new language learning late in life may not only demonstrate the scope of neuroplasticity, in that learnng is possible and even successful in old age, but that it may also engage the mechanisms that naturally create protective cognitive and neural reserve across the lifespan for bilingual speakers (e.g., Antonio & Wright, 2017; Bak, Long, & Vega-Mendoza, Sorace, 2016). In each of these domains, there has been discussion and debate concerning the degree to which these mechanisms reflect the engagement of domain general cognitive or language specific mechanisms (e.g., Zirnstein, Bice, & Kroll, 2019). Recent studies focused on bilinguals who develop dementia, suggest that there may be a mixed pattern of benefits and costs associated with cognitve and language functions. While the manifestation of dementia may be delayed in bilingual speakers (e.g., Bialystok, Craik, & Freedman, 2007), patterns of language use suggest disruptions in the ability to use each language, with some evidence suggesting that the regulation of the more dominant language may be affected (e.g., Ivanova, Salmon, & Gollan, 2014: Mendez, 2019). In this talk, we consider how we might relate the findings on cognitive aging in bilinguals to the emerging literature on new language learning in older adults. We ask how the regulation of the languages in use may play a causal role in cognitive outcomes and whether the evidence on new language learning may provide a model for at least short-term remediation of language functions in older adults bilinguals with dementia.
University of California, Irvine

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