On the first day of the NTPRS 2011 conference, Stephen Krashen was the keynote speaker. He spoke about several different issues. One of the most interesting parts of his speech, however, was about how to keep our brains young, something which I am sure we all want to know about! He gave three main tips for keeping your brain young by delaying the onset of dementia.

The first way to keep your brain young involves reading, but not just any kind of reading. The studies he discussed found that people who read extensively and read a wide variety of materials are much less likely to show impaired brain function in old age.

The second way is good news for us language teachers! It appears that speaking a second language also helps to keep your brain young. He then mentioned a study conducted by another language researcher, Ellen Bialystok. She is a psychologist at York University in Toronto, Canada and she recently published the results of her Alzheimer’s study. Interestingly enough, she and her colleagues found that the patients that were bilingual (whether their second language was acquired at a young age or not) were in significantly better shape mentally than the patients that were monolingual. Knowing a second language did not appear to prevent the disease, but rather it allowed the patients’ brains to cope better with the disease – so much so that most of these patients were diagnosed an average of 4 years later than the monolingual patients. The study suggests that knowing a second language helps you to better focus on important information while ignoring irrelevant information, and that somehow the “regular use of two languages helps maintain this ability.” Unfortunately Bialystok’s studies focused on those who had been bilingual since youth, so we don’t yet know if learning a language later in life has the same positive effect.

And the third way involves coffee. Apparently coffee consumption can help delay dementia as well. The research shows that those who were regular coffee drinkers were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. And non-coffee drinkers were found to decline more overall than coffee drinkers.  From the studies he mentioned, it appears that 3-5 cups of coffee per day would be the ideal amount to keep your brain young.

If you would like to see further details regarding these studies, please see this research paper, written by Stephen Krashen.

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