Older people speak faster and have healthier brains

Older people speak faster and have healthier brains

As we get older, we sometimes find that it takes longer to come up with the right words, leading us to worry that we may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline.

Psychologists at the University of Toronto in Canada have found that speaking faster is a more important indicator of brain health, while speaking slowly is a normal part of aging.

This is the first study to examine differences in natural speaking speed and brain health in healthy adults. The findings, published in the Journal of Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition, suggest that speaking speed reflects changes in brain function. . Therefore, speaking speed should be included as part of standard cognitive function tests to help clinicians detect signs of cognitive decline as early as possible and help older adults maintain brain health.

In the study, 125 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 90 completed three different assessments. The first assessment was a picture-naming game in which they had to answer questions about pictures while ignoring distracting words heard through headphones. For example, they were asked “Does this word end in p” when shown a picture of a mop, while hearing the word broom to distract them. In this way, the researchers were able to test participants’ ability to identify what the picture was and recall its name.

Next, participants were asked to describe two complex pictures for 60 seconds each. The researchers used artificial intelligence-based software to analyze the performance of their descriptive language. In addition, the researchers looked at how quickly each participant spoke and how long they paused.

Finally, participants completed standard tests to assess executive functioning—the ability to manage conflicting information, focus, and avoid distractions—that declines with age and is associated with dementia risk.

As expected, many of the participants’ abilities declined with age, including how quickly they could find the right words to describe a picture. Surprisingly, although the ability to recognize a picture and recall its name did worsen with age, this was not associated with declines in other cognitive functions. The number and length of time participants paused while searching for the right word was not associated with brain health. Instead, how quickly participants said the names of pictures predicted how quickly they spoke, and both are related to executive function.

Although many older adults worry that they need to stop and find the right word, the results above suggest this is a normal part of aging. On the other hand, slowing down normal speaking speed, with or without pauses, is a more important indicator of changes in brain health.

In the future, the research team hopes to do the same test with more participants over several years to see if speaking speed actually predicts an individual’s brain health as they age. On this basis, these results can support the development of tools for early detection of cognitive decline, allowing clinicians to implement reasonable interventions to help the elderly delay cognitive decline.

Source link