Alzheimer's leaves bilingual victims stranded in Canada

May 19, 2013 by Thibault Jourdan

The devastating effect of Alzheimer's disease on bilingual people has been thrown into focus in Canada, where the sudden loss of a second language can leave sufferers feeling like strangers in their own country.

Despite increasing evidence that bilingualism can actually delay the onset of , those grappling with the ravages of the disease often find themselves isolated by the lack of essential services in their language of choice.

When 's strikes, an people's ability to communicate in their second language often erodes rapidly.

Sylvie Lavoie told AFP she noticed a steady deterioration in her mother's ability to speak English fluently after she was diagnosed with the disease.

Her mother, Helene Tremblay-Lavoie, later took a test to measure her deterioration that provided conclusive evidence.

She scored nine marks out of 30 for a test in English contrasted with 19 out of 30 for the same test in French.

"The result was a terrible shock, a huge surprise," Lavoie told AFP. "Talking in French to my mother I had not noticed that she had lost her English.

"I noticed that she was speaking less and less English to my husband, who is anglophone, but I attributed that to the illness and general ."

The case garnered attention in Canada. Tremblay-Lavoie was born in the French-speaking province of Quebec and lived in Toronto for 30 years, becoming fully bilingual.

However, when it came to finding a facility capable of caring for her mother, Lavoie discovered nothing was available for her mother in Toronto.

She eventually found a spot in a French-speaking hospice in the town of Welland, near Niagara Falls.

In response to the shortfall of spaces, the Helene Tremblay-Lavoie Foundation was set up last year with the goal of creating long-term care for francophones in the Toronto region.

"People who lose the ability to speak English are unilingual francophones who have learned English later in life," said Guy Proulx, a professor at York University who specializes in the assessment and rehabilitation of cognitive disorders in people suffering from strokes or dementia.

Proulx, a director of the foundation, cautioned that individuals who had been bilingual since childhood were less likely to lose the use of their second language.

"A bilingual from childhood won't lose it because it is automated, it is anchored in. When it is automated, it is more resistant to diseases like Alzheimer's," he explained.

Proulx and the foundation are hoping to set up a dedicated francophone clinic in the Toronto region that will feature a research center in the field of cognitive health and therapy for diseases like Alzheimer's.

Nearly 90 percent of francophones in Toronto—some 125,000 people out of a population of 600,000 across Ontario—are in relationships with non-francophones. The aim is to ensure these people can stay together when the disease strikes.

"Health care services in French are available in Toronto but they are scattered. They need to be structured," said Proulx.

Jean Roy, who chairs the foundation's board, said it had the support of the provincial and federal governments.

"The project will cost Can$200,000 per year for three years and we already have the money. It is only going to be a matter of months."

Explore further: Researchers find first physical evidence bilingualism delays onset of Alzheimer's symptoms

Related Stories

Researchers find first physical evidence bilingualism delays onset of Alzheimer's symptoms

October 13, 2011
Researchers at St. Michael's Hospital have found that people who speak more than one language have twice as much brain damage as unilingual people before they exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. It's the first physical ...

Study examines role of bilingualism in children's development

February 8, 2012
A new study on children who are raised bilingual examined the effects on children's development of growing up speaking two languages. The study found that different factors were responsible for the language- and non-language-related ...

Bilingual children switch tasks faster than speakers of a single language

April 3, 2012
Children who grow up learning to speak two languages are better at switching between tasks than are children who learn to speak only one language, according to a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. ...

Growing up bilingual: Dual-language upbringing reflected in young children's vocabulary

January 16, 2013
Language mixing – using elements from two languages in the same sentence – is frequent among bilingual parents and could pose a challenge for vocabulary acquisition by one- and two-year-old children, according to a new ...

Bilingual immigrants are healthier, according to new study

March 15, 2012
Bilingual immigrants are healthier than immigrants who speak only one language, according to new research from sociologists at Rice University.

Recommended for you

Lifestyle changes to stave off Alzheimer's? Hints, no proof

July 20, 2017
There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine key risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases around the world.

Blood test identifies key Alzheimer's marker

July 19, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that measures of amyloid beta in the blood have the potential to help identify people with altered levels of amyloid in their ...

Steering an enzyme's 'scissors' shows potential for stopping Alzheimer's disease

July 19, 2017
The old real estate adage about "location, location, location" might also apply to the biochemical genesis of Alzheimer's disease, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

Brain scans may change care for some people with memory loss

July 19, 2017
Does it really take an expensive brain scan to diagnose Alzheimer's? Not everybody needs one but new research suggests that for a surprising number of patients whose memory problems are hard to pin down, PET scans may lead ...

Can poor sleep boost odds for Alzheimer's?

July 18, 2017
(HealthDay)— Breathing problems during sleep may signal an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, a trio of studies suggests.

Hearing is believing: Speech may be a clue to mental decline

July 17, 2017
Your speech may, um, help reveal if you're uh ... developing thinking problems. More pauses, filler words and other verbal changes might be an early sign of mental decline, which can lead to Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.