Home Medizin Laut Studie ist die Sprechgeschwindigkeit entscheidend für die Beurteilung der kognitiven Gesundheit bei älteren Erwachsenen

Laut Studie ist die Sprechgeschwindigkeit entscheidend für die Beurteilung der kognitiven Gesundheit bei älteren Erwachsenen

von NFI Redaktion

As we age, we may notice that it takes longer to find the right words. This can raise concerns about cognitive decline and dementia.

However, a new study from Baycrest and the University of Toronto suggests that speech rate is a more important indicator of brain health than word-finding difficulty, which appears to be a normal part of aging. This is one of the first studies to examine both differences in natural language and brain health in healthy adults.

Our results suggest that changes in overall speech speed may reflect changes in the brain. This indicates that speech speed should be tested as part of standard cognitive assessments to help doctors detect cognitive decline faster and help older adults support their brain health as they age.

Dr. Jed Meltzer, Baycrest’s Canada Research Chair in Interventional Cognitive Neuroscience and lead author of the study

In this study, 125 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 90 underwent three different tasks. The first was a picture-naming game where they had to answer questions about images while ignoring distractor words played through headphones. For example, when shown an image of a mop, they might be asked, „Does it end with ‚p‘?“ while hearing the distracting word „broom“ as a distraction. This allowed researchers to test participants‘ ability to recognize the image and remember its name.

Next, participants described two complex images for 60 seconds each. Their speech performance was then analyzed in collaboration with Winterlight Labs using an AI-based software, examining factors like speech rate and pause duration.

Finally, participants completed standard tests assessing cognitive functions that tend to decline with age and are linked to dementia risk – namely executive function, the ability to handle conflicting information, stay focused, and avoid distractions.

While many abilities decreased with age, including word-finding speed, the ability to recognize an image and recall its name declined with age but was not associated with declines in other cognitive abilities. The number and length of pauses during word-finding were not related to brain health. Instead, the speed at which participants could name images was an indicator of their overall speech rate and was linked to executive function. In other words, it was not the pauses in word-finding that showed the strongest association with brain health, but the speech rate around those pauses.

Although many older adults worry about pausing to find words, these results suggest that this is a normal part of aging. On the other hand, a slowdown in normal speech, regardless of pauses, may be a more important indicator of changes in brain health.

In future studies, the research team could conduct the same tests over several years with a group of participants to investigate whether fast speech does impact brain health in aging individuals. These results could in turn support the development of tools for early detection of cognitive impairments, enabling doctors to prescribe interventions to help patients maintain or even improve their brain health as they age.

This research was supported by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), an Internship Grant from the Mitacs Accelerate Program, and a Connaught Innovation Award.


Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care

Journal Reference:

Wei, HT, et al. (2024) Cognitive components of age-related increases in word-finding difficulty. Neuropsychology and Cognition of Aging. doi.org/10.1080/13825585.2024.2315774.

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