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Neuropsychology. 2015 Mar;29(2):292-302. doi: 10.1037/neu0000129. Epub 2014 Aug 11.

Early life instruction in foreign language and music and incidence of mild cognitive impairment.

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Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center.



To test the hypothesis that foreign language and music instruction in early life are associated with lower incidence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and slower rate of cognitive decline in old age.


At enrollment in a longitudinal cohort study, 964 older persons without cognitive impairment estimated years of foreign language and music instruction by age 18. Annually thereafter they completed clinical evaluations that included cognitive testing and clinical classification of MCI.


There were 264 persons with no foreign language instruction, 576 with 1-4 years, and 124 with > 4 years; 346 persons with no music instruction, 360 with 1-4 years, and 258 with > 4 years. During a mean of 5.8 years of observation, 396 participants (41.1%) developed MCI. In a proportional hazards model adjusted for age, sex, and education, higher levels (> 4 years) of foreign language (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.687, 95% confidence interval [CI] [0.482, 0.961]) and music (HR = 0.708, 95% CI [0.539, 0.930]) instruction by the age of 18 were each associated with reduced risk of MCI. The association persisted after adjustment for other early life indicators of an enriched cognitive environment, and it was stronger for nonamnestic than amnestic MCI. Both foreign language and music instruction were associated with higher initial level of cognitive function, but neither instruction measure was associated with cognitive decline.


Higher levels of foreign language and music instruction during childhood and adolescence are associated in old age with lower risk of developing MCI but not with rate of cognitive decline.

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