Morse Code and Alzheimer – A Hint for a Proposal

A recent article in PNAS by a team of scientists from Milan and Bolzano, Italy, adds to the growing list of scientific studies suggesting that the learning and/or knowledge of different languages may have an effect on delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s dementia (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/01/241610909114.full.pdf).

Most humans learn very early in their lives that the different sounds in the language(s) they speak can be graphically recorded in the form of written characters representing sounds. The Morse code (more likely initially proposed by Alfred Weil, one or Morse’s associates) is an alternative form for representing those characters using minimal combinations of “dots” and “dashes”. Although strictly not a language per se, it is an alternative way of symbolizing the sounds in a spoken language, and learning to mentally decode it possibly involves neurological paths similar to those used in the learning of a language (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20346399/)

The learning of the Morse code has been informally invoked among the “mental exercises” that may potentially be of benefit against mental decay (https://www.duolingo.com/comment/7721790http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/01/brain-exercises-delay-speed-up-dementia/  [see the comments]). However, up to the present, no scientific study seems to have sought direct evidence in this regard.

Cross-sectional studies are usually prone to confounding factors. However, they can provide initial evidence pointing in the direction of associations that may well be causally linked (as shown for many factors involved in chronic ailments and most notably for smoking and cancer). Hence, perhaps a survey for the incidence and/or time of onset of Alzheimer among radio-operators able to mentally decode Morse code, as compared to the general population (or a more carefully chosen or matched control group) might provide initial unbiased evidence pointing in the direction of a beneficial effect of the code on preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Fortunately, radio amateur operators currently conversant in the Morse code never depended on that evidence to learn it and enjoy its use. However, the possibility that its learning and use might prevent Alzheimer can be an added bonus to their enjoyment.

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