Detection of cognitive decline can be difficult as signs can be confused with aspects of normal aging. But soon, voice driven technology could be the key to allowing clinicians to spot the signs of cognitive impairment before it advances to dementia or other neurodegenerative conditions.
Early detection of these conditions is vital to helping healthcare providers and caregivers in developing and implementing adequate care plans for patients and families. At the center of the effort is the collection of complex data points related to speech patterns that have to be examined over a long period of time in an attempt to determine if researchers can accurately monitor changes in at home speech that could indicate cognitive decline.
The National Institutes of Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health, recently awarded a $1.1 million grant to the University of Massachusetts Boston and Dartmouth College researchers to look into the possibilities of using voice to monitor cognitive status.
The team of leading voice technology experts is tasked with developing a system that uses machine and deep learning techniques to collect and analyze data on participants to provide feedback to patients, caregivers and clinicians. If successful, the results will allow the team to conduct widespread testing of the system. The hope is that they will be able to create diagnostic methods that can complement current diagnostic strategies and help caregivers maintain an individual’s independence at home later in life.
The NIA grant started September 30 of last year and extends through May of 2023. The project’s end goal is to develop a cost efficient, practical assessment method that can be done in the older adult’s home.
“The medical community already knows there are some triggers for dementia, like medication errors and forgetting appointments,” John Batsis, one of the lead researchers on the study and Geriatrician and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth said in a statement. “We plan to recruit 90 participants when we are ready to get started. Some will have memory issues and others will not. We can set a baseline, then look for voice patterns, changes in verbal fluency and in decision making. We can create an algorithm, learning what is normal and what is not for the person.”
Older Adults and Voice Technology
You might be wondering if older adults as a demographic have largely adopted voice technology given its recent arrival on the tech scene and concerns over privacy, but a look at the market for home voice assistants shows that older adults are the fastest growing demographic in purchasing tools such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home.
It’s not hard to see why either. Voice assistants are great ways to set reminders, check the weather, maintain to-do lists, keep up with the news and play games, music or audio books that stimulate cognitive activity.
At a time when older adults are regularly using technology in ways that they could only imagine during their youth, Alexa is having an impact on the way patients manage conditions ranging from diabetes to stroke survivors. It’s only a matter of time before our interactions with these systems can tell clinicians far more about our health than an average office visit.