Objectives: This study aimed to explore whether bilingual older adults had a cognitive advantage over their monolingual counterparts, and validate the influence of cognition-related (participants’ cognitive condition, the cognitive domain assessed), and bilingualism-related factors (second language proficiency, frequency of use, acquisition time, and immigration status of participants)on the cognitive advantage of bilingualism.
Methods: Through a systematic search of nine databases (Web of Science, PubMed, Elsevier Science Direct, Cochrane Library, Embase, PsycINFO, CNKI, VIP and Wanfang) from the inception to April 2021, observational studies with bilingual and monolingual older adults as participants and cognitive function scores as outcome measures were included. Two reviewers independently completed the selection and methodological quality assessment of studies using the JBI cross-sectional study quality evaluation tool and used a pre-designed table for data extraction and sorting.
Results: Fourteen studies with 51 tasks were included, involving 3737 participants (bilingual group: 1695, monolingual group: 2042). The overall results of the meta-analysis showed that bilingualism had a small cognitive advantage over monolingualism in older adults [SMD=0.23, 95%CI (0.07, 0.38), P=0.004]. In addition, the subgroup analyses indicated that factors such as participants’ cognitive condition, the cognitive domain assessed, second language proficiency, acquisition time, and immigration status of participants impacted the cognitive advantage of bilingualism in older adults.
Conclusion: Bilingualism had a mild cognitive advantage over monolingualism in older adults, which was more prominent in older adults with mild cognitive impairment than in cognitively healthy ones, more evident in global cognitive function and inhibitory control than in other individual cognitive domains, and might be influenced by the proficiency and acquisition time of second language as well as the immigration status of older adults.
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