April 14, 2023 – Using artificial intelligence to analyze a recording of someone’s voice could cut the duration of an Alzheimer’s screening from several hours to less than 10 minutes.
Currently, Alzheimer’s screenings can involve brain scans and analysis of cerebral fluid collected from the spine via a procedure called a lumbar puncture. Researchers from universities in Texas and Georgia compared the results of those standard tests to their new AI-powered voice screening.
The experimental technique identifies subtle changes in a person’s voice that could indicate cognitive problems and Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms are evident. Results of the study were published earlier this year by the Alzheimer’s Association in Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.
“If confirmed with larger studies, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to study vocal recordings could provide primary care providers with an easy-to-perform screening tool for at-risk individuals,” said researcher Ihab Hajjar, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern, in a statement. “Earlier diagnoses would give patients and families more time to plan for the future and give clinicians greater flexibility in recommending promising lifestyle interventions.”
The study included 206 people, with just under half having mild cognitive impairment, while the others had no cognitive impairment. The people were all under 50 years old, and 51% of them were African American. They all participated in testing for the study at Emory University in Atlanta.
The voice recording task for the study involved participants spending 1 to 2 minutes describing a piece of artwork.
Using artificial intelligence to analyze speech changes can identify signs of early disease that are either extremely labor intensive to detect with current methods, or not even detectable by the human ear, Hajjar said.
“This novel method of testing performed well in detecting those with mild cognitive impairment and more specifically in identifying patients with evidence of Alzheimer’s disease – even when it cannot be easily detected using standard cognitive assessments,” he said.
Mild cognitive impairment, which some people in the study had, means someone has language or memory problems that are serious enough to be noticed by the person affected and by friends and family. However, the problems don’t keep them from carrying out daily tasks.
Not everyone who has mild cognitive impairment goes on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, which is a progressive neurological disorder that Mayo Clinic describes as causing the brain to shrink. Alzheimer’s affects 5.8 million people age 65 and older in the United States.