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Voice test may help detect Alzheimer’s early: New study

September 1, 2015

A voice test could help spot the signs of Alzheimer’s according to researchers.

Medics already use the study of speech patterns to help diagnose Parkinson’s disease because of the way it impacts the ability to talk. Now researchers are carrying out tests to discover if the same system will detect the onset of other degenerative brain conditions.

Experts in the US have received a $380,000 (£247,000) grant to carry out research that may lead to a fast, low-cost test to diagnose patients with Alzheimer’s by listening to their voices, even over the phone.

Sona Patel, Professor at the Seton Hall University in New Jersey is leading the study by looking at errors in various speech tasks.

Participants are wired up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) testing machine which detects differences in brain activity and vocal response.

“Your voice is really important,” Professor Patel said. “You react to (stimuli) with your voice automatically, without even realising it… now, the question is if we can use (voices) to indicate other neurological disorders.

“We connect the research participants to an EEG system and a microphone and ask them to say a vowel sound while they listen to themselves through headphones.

“They are asked to maintain a steady sound, but we make it tricky by changing the auditory feedback (the sound they hear) slightly, such as pitch or loudness, and measure their neural and voice responses.

“What I would envision is to put this software on an app that can be used by the patient directly or in a medical facility.

“A patient or doctor could do a quick test with a vocal recording, and the score would indicate the likelihood of a neurological problem.

“If patients can be diagnosed in an early stage of disease, treatment and drug therapies can start at that time, possibly slowing the disease progression.”

Professor Patel hopes to complete her research by next year and is currently recruiting men and women aged over 50 to take part in trials.

Last year, Aston University mathematician Dr Max Little showed it is possible to use voice recordings to spot Parkinson’s with 99 per cent accuracy.

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