Do Bilinguals Fare Better Post-Surgery?

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neurosurgery
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Could the ability to speak more than one language affect your surgery’s outcome? Looks like it.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic believe bilinguals may have better outcomes post-surgery as compared to monolinguals. The Journal of Neuro-Oncology recently published the findings of their research.

The study included data collected from 56 patients. 14 of these patients were bilingual while the rest were monolingual. All patients had undergone awake craniotomy between September 2016 and June 2019. Tumors in all patients were present in the area of the brain responsible for language.

What are Bilinguals?

Over half of the world’s population is believed to be bilingual or multilingual. It is estimated that around 5,000 languages are spoken across the world. Bilingualism is the ability to fluently speak two languages.

Late bilinguals are people who learn a second language after the age of six. Whereas, early bilinguals learn both their first and second language simultaneously before the age of six. 

The age at which people acquire a second language can have a great impact on the cortical representation of language and, neuroplasticity. All 14 patients in the study were late bilinguals.

Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D., concentrating in the midst of surgery.
Source: Mayo Clinic

Awake Craniotomy and Brain Mapping

An awake craniotomy usually involves intra-operative brain mapping. This involves the use of electrical currents to identify areas of the brain that need to be preserved during tumor removal. Patient’s response during the procedure also serves as a guide for neurosurgeons.  

Bilinguals Suffer Fewer Complications

Seizures are a common complication of intra-operative brain mapping due to electrical cortical stimulation. The study found bilingual patients were able to tolerate higher levels of the electric current.

However, they experienced no seizures during the procedure while monolingual patients did. Additionally, post-surgery Karnofsky Performance Scale (KPS) scores in bilingual patients were higher indicating improved surgical recovery among patients. 

Our study results highlight that there are differences between the monolingual and bilingual patient populations, which inform our surgical decision making. Based on this information, we can involve the patient to give them a choice on which language they prefer to preserve and use for daily life.

Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa.

Reference:

ReFaey, K., Tripathi, S., Bhargav, A.G. et al. Potential differences between monolingual and bilingual patients in approach and outcome after awake brain surgery. J Neurooncol 148, 587–598 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11060-020-03554-0

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