Learning second language boosts brain volume in people with MS

Have you ever considered trying to learn a second language? According to a new study, it could help expand areas of the brain that have been damaged by multiple sclerosis (MS) and boost mental wellbeing.

The research, which was published in the journal Plos One and took place at Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria, enrolled 11 people with relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) and 12 healthy controls. The median average age of the participants was 37, the average time since diagnosis was 3.3 years, and they had an average score of 1.5 on the expanded disability status.

The study focused on teaching people English, which was none of the participants’ first language. They attended classes for three hours each week, and had homework. The training programme lasted for eight weeks.

The researchers took magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) scans of participants’ brains before the language training began. There was significant loss of grey matter volume in various regions of the brains of the people in the study who had MS. After

Some studies in healthy adults have found that short-term language learning courses led to an increase in grey matter volume in certain brain regions, including areas involved in language and cognitive processing. After taking the course, scans revealed that grey matter increased in areas responsible for short-term memory (the hippocampus), learning (the putamen) and environment recognition (parahippocampus).

Despite having reduced grey matter, participants with MS were as successful in learning the language as their healthy counterparts in terms of listening comprehension, fluency and vocabulary scores.

These findings also indicate neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to rewire after damage) is present in the brains of people with MS.