Researchers at the University of Salamanca have developed the prototype of a device that would allow, after analyzing the speech of an elderly person, establish the likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
After having followed this line of research for 6 years, Juan José García Meilán, of the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Salamanca, Francisco Martínez Sánchez of the University of Murcia and the rest of his team have succeeded in developing this device which in just five minutes can make a diagnosis.
Detect Alzheimer’s disease by voice
The device developed by Martínez Sánchez and his collaborators (2016) is the basis of its operation in the analysis of the rhythm of language, A property that is negatively affected by the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Although language rhythm patterns are of great importance in human communication (Rothermich, Schmidt-Kassow, & Kotz, 2012), the differences between these in a healthy person and in a person who is beginning to developing this disease are impossible to perceive just by listening.
Therefore, in order to apply this test, patients must read certain sentences recorded by this device which, thanks to algorithms, Analyzes the properties of language and compares them to typical parameters of Alzheimer’s disease.
The problematic diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease
There is currently no test or diagnostic tool that can fully detect this disease. There are, for example, diagnostic clinical criteria that state that the patient is likely to suffer from the disease once he has completed a series of symptoms, such as its gradual onset. or the person has severe memory problems.
This makes it impossible to diagnose early by clinical observation, that is to say before the onset of the disease. Other tests such as cerebrospinal fluid analysis are too invasive.
On the other hand, neuroimaging techniques that can be applied to detect this disease are very expensive and therefore cannot be tackled on a large scale by public and private health systems.
Regarding neuropsychological tests, These take a long time to apply (Laske et al., 2015). In addition, despite characteristic symptoms, the disease cannot be 100% confirmed until brain tissue is analyzed after the patient’s death (National Institute on Aging, 2010).
The importance of finding
Faced with this situation, it is essential to develop such devices. First, it is a test that establishes a diagnosis in a short period of time, although it should be remembered that it must be combined with other types of assessments.
The second advantage to mention is that its use will be very intuitiveIts use will therefore be accessible to both clinicians and researchers.
Third, it should be noted that the economic cost of applying this test will be quite low.
Finally, the fact that it makes it possible to detect the probability of suffering from the disease before symptoms appear this is really important, because it would make it possible to set up therapies, both psychological and pharmacological, which aim to prevent the associated alterations and therefore to improve the quality of life of those affected.
The incidence of this disease
Alzheimer’s disease involves suffering that, as it progresses and develops, even prevents a person from living independently.
As published by Alzheimer’s Disease International (2015) in its report on dementia, it should double every 20 years the number of people suffering from a dementia-type disease. That is to say that in 2015, approximately 46,800,000 were affected by these diseases, by 2030 the number will increase to 74,800,000 and by 2050 this figure will have increased to 130 million.
this organization catalogs these forecasts as those of an epidemic, Although they claim that they are mainly due to the aging of the world population.
Although this increase in the number of cases will be accentuated due to longer life expectancy, according to the report, there will be differences between regions, both globally and within a single country. It is because of factors such as people’s access to the public health system, Because it influences both the treatment and the detection of the disease. This is why this World Report on Alzheimer’s disease calls on governments to include both prevention and treatment of dementia among their priorities.
In view of these predictions, some researchers interested in this pathology have focused on how their prevention affects interventions such as physical activity, social interactions, modification of diet and maintenance of shape. As for the latter, it is important to mention the notion of cognitive reserve.
This refers to the fact that if we exercise our intellectual capacity, our brain, due to its plasticity, will be able to adapt better to the damage it suffers, helping to resist the aging process and preventing the onset of dementias. (Stern, 2002). ).
Therefore, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease it will make it possible to offer therapies focused on prevention by stimulating the mind. In these therapies called cognitive stimulation (CE), we could define it as a type of intervention that offers older people the pleasure of activities that involve stimulation of thought, memory and concentration, usually in a social context. (Woods, Aguirre, Spector & Orrell, 2012).
Such interventions have been shown to be effective in healthy older people (Tardif and Simard, 2011) in long-term hospitalized elderly people (Castel, Lluch, Ribas, Borràs and Moltó, 2015) and in people with Alzheimer’s disease, improving neuropsychiatric symptoms and their quality of life and of their caregivers (Fukushima et al., 2015). It should not be forgotten that early detection of Alzheimer’s disease would also make it possible to focus the treatment of this disease on the stage preceding the onset of its symptoms.
Although this device is still only a prototype, its effectiveness and other characteristics are quite promising.
This line of research, on the other hand, is a good example of the importance of investing in science because, even if we do not see the results in the short term, knowledge on certain subjects will eventually lead to an improvement in the quality of life sooner or later.
- Alzheimer’s Disease International. (2015). World Alzheimer’s Disease Report 2015.
- Castel, A., Lluch, C., Ribas, J., Borràs, L. and Moltó, E. (2015). Effects of a cognitive stimulation program on psychological well-being in a sample of long-term hospital patients. Aging and mental health. DOI: 10.1080 / 13607863.2015.1099033
- Fukushima, R., Carmo, E., Pedroso, R., Micali, P., Donadelli, P., Fuzaro, G., … and Costa, J. (2016). Effects of cognitive stimulation on neuropsychiatric symptoms in older people with Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review. Dementia and Neuropsychology, 10 (3), 178-184.
- Laske, C., Sohrabi, H., Frost, S., López-de-Ipiña, K., Garrard, P., Buscema, M., … and O’Bryant, S. (2015). Innovative diagnostic tools for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s and dementia, 11 (5), 561-578.
- Martínez-Sánchez, F., Meilán, J., Vera-Ferrándiz, J., Carro, J., Pujante-Valverde, I., Ivanova, O., and Carcavilla, N. (2016). Speech Rhythm Disorders in Hispanic People with Alzheimer’s Disease. Aging, neuropsychology and cognition.
- National Institute on Aging. (2010). Alzheimer’s disease.
- Rothermich, K., Schmidt-Kassow, M. and Kotz, S. (2012). The rhythm will take you: facilitate the regular counter processing of semantic sentences. Neuropsychology, 50 (2), 232-244.
- Tardif, S. and Simard, M. (2011). Cognitive Stimulation Programs in Healthy Seniors: A Review. International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2011.
- Stern, Y. (2002). What is cognitive reserve? Theoretical and research application of the reservation concept. Journal of the International Society of Neuropsychology, 8 (3), 448-460.
- Woods, B., Aguirre, E., Spector, A. and Orrell, M. (2012). Cognitive stimulation to improve cognitive functioning in people with dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2.