My current research interests are mainly focused on speech production deficits in bilinguals speakers with neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer, Parkinson, and Huntington) or following brain vascular diseases. Moreover, I am collaborating in a project aiming at looking at the underlying mechanisms of bilingualism as cognitive reserve factor in aging and age-related diseases.
Some research questions and some results:
1. How non-linguistic deficits following brain damage impact the control of two languages?
Parkinson's disease affects control of the two languages and in some cases more than general-domain control, but not for all types of mechanisms (see results in Cattaneo et al., 2015). Now we are investigating whether these deficits also extent to other language selection contexts, for instance in those in which is not required language switching. Also, we are trying to figure out at which level of the language processing these deficits might be impaired. Specifically, this is a study carried out with bilingual patients with Huntington's disease.
2. Does semantic control work similarly in the two languages?
Our recent results (Calabria et al., 2016) showed that in early and proficient bilinguals with Alzheimer's disease the two languages decline over time at same rate, suggesting similar underlying organizational principles. Research is now devoted to see whether semantic control in bilingual patients with semantic memory deficits may differentially affect speech production in the two languages.
3. In which way bilingualism may proctect against cognitive decline?
Preliminary results from our lab are suggesting that lifelong and active use of the two languages may delay the symptoms onset of Mild Cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. The further step is to investigate which mechanisms, probably related to better executive funtioning, may enhance these benefits.
4. May episodic memory deficits end up with differential retrieval benefits for the two languages?
Research in healthy bilinguals has shown that retrieving information in the second language is better than in the first language. Now we are investigating whether such second language advantage is still preserved when people have episodic memory deficits.