The most effective way of deferring serious memory problems is by being able to survive in another language. Research in Toronto, Trieste and Hyderabad converge on one conclusion: lifetime experience of workarounds in a second language defers the cognitive effects of Alzheimer’s  by 4.5 years.

The crucial Alzheimer’s failure is encoding of the seven items of Working Memory through the fragile hippocampus to Semantic Memory. Disorientation in time, place and person are the core symptoms. Ability to work around gaps in the last few minutes’ information allows the sufferer to re-orient in time, place and person and get through their muddle.

The ambitious approach is to learn Chinese. I started with Chinese because it has much higher connectivity than English through tones and pictograms. However, I still could not get by in a Chinese family the way I can in a German or even Spanish family. One might need 200 – 300 contact hours, or a GCSE, before conversations in (pidgin) Mandarin are more rewarding than frustrating.

As few English people are bilingual, the best approach for most U3A members is probably to develop survival pidgin based on school French plus British Sign Language. A “pidgin” concentrates on high frequency content words, glossing over morphology, genders and tenses that you don’t know. “Immersion” means trying for a child-parent relationship with a native speaker, e.g. through living en famille with a Twinning family.  An indulgent parent accepts meaning, supplying the correct form only occasionally. This is actually quite fun, as it involves pantomime and lots of hilarious misunderstanding.