Learning a new language at any age could slow down brain ageing, a new study suggests.

Knowing an additional language doesn't just allow people to converse with a wider range of people, but even boosts brain power. Research has shown that bilingual children are better at problem solving than children who learn just one language.

The new study by University of Edinburgh finds that bilingualism protects brain from cognitive decline even in old age. In fact, learning a new language in adulthood may slow down ageing of the brain. So, the benefit of learning a second language isn't restricted to age.

"Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence," said Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh," lead author of the study.

The study was based on data from the Lothian Birth Cohort.  Around 835 native speakers of English, born in 1936, were part of the cohort. These people were given an intelligence test in 1947 and then again at age 70 years. In the study, 262 people knew more than one language. Of the bilingual participants, 195 had learned the second language before age 18, while other had learned it in adulthood.

Researchers found that people who spoke more than one language had better scores on intelligence tests. Specifically, these participants scored more points on general intelligence and reading tests compared to the expected points from their baseline scores. The benefits of being a bilingual were seen both in people who acquired the second language early as well as later in life.

"The Lothian Birth Cohort offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language" concluded Dr. Bak, according to a news release. "These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain."

The study is published in the journal Annals of Neurology.