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Gift of Gab? Study Suggests Why Fast Talkers Are Better Off Than Slower Counterparts Later in Life

Speed of Speaking is Major Indicator of Cognitive Ability: Study
Source: MEGA

Researchers say older people's ability to speak fast is a sign of cognitive health.

Mar. 13 2024, Published 3:03 p.m. ET

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In the ongoing discourse about the cognitive abilities of leaders like President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, a crucial aspect often overlooked is the speed of speech, rather than just the choice of words.

Recent research suggests that this metric might offer valuable insights into brain health among older adults, shedding light on potential cognitive decline.

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A study conducted by researchers, including Dr. Jed Meltzer, Baycrest’s Canada Research Chair in Interventional Cognitive Neuroscience, examined the correlation between natural speech patterns and brain health in healthy adults across various age groups.

The findings indicate that changes in the pace of speech could be indicative of underlying changes in brain function.

In the study, 125 healthy volunteers spanning ages 18 to 90 underwent a series of assessments. These assessments included tasks like a picture-naming game and describing complex images, while their speech was analyzed for speed and pauses.

Additionally, standard cognitive tests targeting abilities prone to decline with age, such as executive function, were administered.

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Contrary to common assumptions, the study found that while certain linguistic abilities, such as word-finding speed, did decrease with age, this decline wasn’t necessarily associated with a deterioration in other cognitive functions.

Notably, the frequency and duration of pauses during speech weren’t directly correlated with brain health.

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Instead, the study highlighted the significance of overall speech speed, irrespective of pauses, as a robust indicator of cognitive health.

Participants who exhibited faster picture naming also tended to speak more rapidly overall, and this swiftness in speech was linked to better executive function.

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These findings suggest that while it’s natural for individuals to experience occasional pauses in speech as they age, the overarching pace of speech could be a more telling sign of changes in brain health.

As such, integrating assessments of speech speed into standard cognitive evaluations could aid in earlier detection of cognitive decline, enabling older adults to better support their cognitive well-being as they age.

Baycrest has indicated plans for further studies to dive deeper into these correlations over an extended period, offering potentially valuable insights into the relationship between speech patterns and brain health.


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