Fast-talking people 'may have better brain health in old age'

Young women having a good time and hanging out, at youth hostel with bunk beds
What does the speed you talk at say about your brain health? (Getty)

People who talk fast could have better brain health in old age, according to new research.

A study, carried out by researchers in Toronto, Canada, suggests that the speed at which we talk is a better indicator of brain health than our ability to find words.

The latter is often seen by people as a potential indicator of brain health, with difficulty in finding words seen as a potential indicator of cognitive decline as people get older. Instead, this could just be a natural part of ageing.

The team from the University of Toronto and Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care enlisted the help of 125 volunteers aged between18 and 90, analysing the results of several assessments they completed.

The first assessment was a picture-naming game, in which participants had to answer questions about photos while ignoring distracting words heard through headphones, enabling researchers to test their ability to recall a word regardless of distraction.

The senior adult woman, worried about increased forgetfulness, talks with the female general practitioner.
Speed of speech might be a better indicator of brain health than forgetting words. (Getty)

In the second task, participants were recorded as they described two complex pictures for 60 seconds each. Their language was then analysed using AI software, with a focus on how quickly they spoke and how frequently they paused.

Finally, the volunteers completed standard tests to assess their mental abilities, particularly those which tend to decline with age and indicate an increased risk of dementia. This included a focus on executive function, showing attention paid to a challenge, the ability to conflict information, ignore distractions, and juggle multiple tasks simultaneously.

The results, published in the journal Aging Neuropsychology and Cognition, found that – as expected – many abilities declined with age. This included ‘word finding speed’, which is the speed at which someone can recognise a picture and recall its name.

However, their study also revealed that a decrease in word-finding speed was not associated with a decline in other mental abilities.

Instead, the speed at which participants spoke in general was the better indicator of overall brain health.

'Talking speed should be tested'

Lead author Dr Jed Meltzer, Baycrest’s Canada research chair in interventional cognitive neuroscience, said: “Our results indicate that changes in general talking speed may reflect changes in the brain. We found that it wasn’t pausing to find words that showed the strongest link to brain health, but rather the speed of the speech which surrounded the pauses.

“The slowing down of speech may therefore be a more important indicator of changes to brain health.

“This suggests that talking speed should be tested as part of standard cognitive assessments. Hopefully, this will help clinicians detect cognitive decline faster and help older adults support their brain health as they age.”

Dr Meltzer added that many older adults concerned about their difficulty in finding words would be reassured by the study, which suggests taking time to remember a word is a normal part of ageing.

The research team is planning future tests in which it hopes to conduct the same assessments with a group of participants over several years, to examine whether speed of speech is truly predictive of brain health for individuals as they age.

These results could support the development of tools to detect cognitive decline as early as possible, allowing for more effective intervention.

Where do people speak the fastest in the UK?

We all know accents vary across the UK, with some harder to understand than others. With those come varying speeds – so where do people speak the fastest in the UK?

According to research carried out by online language learning marketplace Preply, the fastest-talking UK city was revealed as Leicester, followed by Glasgow then Liverpool.

Preply came to its conclusions by taking the ten most populated UK cities and analysing transcripts of videos from local news stations and podcasts to calculate the average words said per minute for each city.

The research identified that, on average, Britons say 189 words per minute.

Compared to this, people in Leicester had an average speech rate per minute of 255 words, making it the fastest city in the UK, followed by Glasgow with an average of 218 words per minute.

In third place was Liverpool, with an average of 210 words per minute while Edinburgh was last with just 132 words per minute.

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