About 47 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type
In this photo taken July 6, 2017, Kim Mueller administers a test to Alan Sweet, where he describes an illustration, as part of a University of Wisconsin-Madison study on dementia, which was to be discussed July 17, 2017 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London. The study found that for some people subtle changes in everyday speech can be correlated with early mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precurser to Alzheimer’s. This was the largest study of speech analysis for this purpose, and if more testing confirms its value, it might offer a simple, cheap way to screen people for very early signs of mental decline. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger), photo: AP/Carrie Antlfinger
17 of July 2017 15:51:02
Your speech may, um, help reveal if you're uh ... developing thinking problems. More pauses, filler words and other verbal changes might be an early sign of mental decline, which can lead to Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests.Researchers had people describe a picture they were shown in taped sessions two years apart. Those with early-stage mild cognitive impairment slid much faster on certain verbal skills than those who didn't develop thinking problems."What we've discovered here is there are aspects of language that are affected earlier than we thought," before or at the same time that memory problems emerge, said one study leader, Sterling Johnson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.tests , they declined faster on content (ideas they expressed) and fluency (the flow of speech and how many pauses and filler words they used.) They used more pronouns such as "it" or "they" instead of specific names for things, spoke in shorter sentences and took longer to convey what they had to say."Those are all indicators of struggling with that computational load that the brain has to conduct" and supports the role of this test to detect decline, said Julie Liss, a speech expert at Arizona State University with no role in the work.She helped lead a study in 2015 that analyzed dozens of press conferences by former President Ronald Reagan and found evidence of speech changes more than a decade before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She also co-founded a company that analyzes speech for many neurological problems, including dementia, traumatic brain injury and Parkinson's disease.Researchers could not estimate the cost of testing for a single patient, but for a doctor to offer it requires only a digital tape recorder and a computer program or app to analyze results.Alan Sweet, 72, a retired state of Wisconsin worker who lives in Madison, is taking part in the study and had the speech test earlier this month. His father had Alzheimer's and his mother had a different type of dementia, Lewy body."Watching my parents decline into the awful world of dementia and being responsible for their medical care was the best and worst experience of my life," he said. "I want to help the researchers learn, furthering medical knowledge of treatment and ultimately, cure."[caption id="attachment_67132" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] In this photo taken July 6, 2017, Alan Sweet describes an illustration as part of a University of Wisconsin-Madison study on dementia, which was to be discussed July 17, 2017 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London. Photo: AP/Carrie Antlfinger[/caption]Participants don't get individual results — it just aids science.Another study at the conference on Monday, led by doctoral student Taylor Fields, hints that hearing loss may be another clue to possible mental decline. It involved 783 people from the same Wisconsin registry project. Those who said at the start of the study that they had been diagnosed with hearing loss were more than twice as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment over the next five years as those who did not start out with a hearing problem.That sort of information is not strong evidence, but it fits with earlier work along those lines.Family doctors "can do a lot to help us if they knew what to look for" to catch early signs of decline, said Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer's Association's chief science officer. Hearing loss, verbal changes and other known risks such as sleep problems might warrant a referral to a neurologist for a dementia check, she said.