Young adults with strong language skills at lower risk for Alzheimer's later, research suggests

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A study from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore suggests that "20-somethings" with highly developed language skills are less likely to have Alzheimer's disease in old age, even if they develop the hallmark brain tangles that typically lead to dementia.

Researchers autopsied the brains of 38 nuns for the study. Of them, 10 had Alzheimer's disease, five had mild dementia, and 13 had no dementia or brain abnormalities. Ten had asymptomatic Alzheimer's, meaning that they displayed no signs of having the disease, but abnormal brain pathologies were present. Researchers were also able to read essays written by the nuns when they entered the convent in their 20s. According to the study results, the essays written by asymptomatic nuns contained more developed ideas than those of the nuns with Alzheimer's, suggesting their grasp of language could have played a role in their mental health later in life.

Researchers also noticed that the cells and neurons in the brains of the asymptomatic nuns were larger than the cells in the brains of the Alzheimer's nuns. Study authors suggest the larger cells may possibly compensate for the damaged, Alzheimer's-afflicted cells. The study appears in the most recent issue of the journal Neurology.