Lifelong bilingualism contributes to cognitive reserve against white matter integrity declines in aging

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

139 Scopus citations


Recent evidence suggests that lifelong bilingualism may contribute to cognitive reserve (CR) in normal aging. However, there is currently no neuroimaging evidence to suggest that lifelong bilinguals can retain normal cognitive functioning in the face of age-related neurodegeneration. Here we explored this issue by comparing white matter (WM) integrity and gray matter (GM) volumetric patterns of older adult lifelong bilinguals (N=20) and monolinguals (N=20). The groups were matched on a range of relevant cognitive test scores and on the established CR variables of education, socioeconomic status and intelligence. Participants underwent high-resolution structural imaging for assessment of GM volume and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) for assessment of WM integrity. Results indicated significantly lower microstructural integrity in the bilingual group in several WM tracts. In particular, compared to their monolingual peers, the bilingual group showed lower fractional anisotropy and/or higher radial diffusivity in the inferior longitudinal fasciculus/inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus bilaterally, the fornix, and multiple portions of the corpus callosum. There were no group differences in GM volume. Our results suggest that lifelong bilingualism contributes to CR against WM integrity declines in aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2841-2846
Number of pages6
Issue number13
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award number R01AG033036 and the National Science Foundation under Award number BCS 0814302 . The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of these granting agencies. We thank Sara Cilles and Quenio Ferreira for their assistance in recruiting participants. In addition, we wish to thank our study volunteers for their participation in this research.


  • Aging
  • Bilingualism
  • Brain reserve
  • Cognitive reserve
  • DTI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Lifelong bilingualism contributes to cognitive reserve against white matter integrity declines in aging'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this