Declining Speech Patterns May Be Early Indicator of Alzheimer’s
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently studied speech patterns to determine if declining speech is an early indicator of mental decline.
To test speech patterns, researchers had people describe a picture they were shown in videotaped sessions two years apart. They looked at pauses, filler words and other verbal changes. Researchers first did the picture-description test on 400 people without cognitive problems and saw no change over time in verbal skills. Next, they tested 264 participants in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, a long-running study of people in their 50s and 60s, most of whom have a parent with Alzheimer’s and might be at higher risk for the disease themselves. Of those, 64 already had signs of early decline or developed it over the next two years, according to other neurological tests they took.
After the second test, two years later, those with early-stage mild cognitive impairment slid much faster on certain verbal skills than those who didn’t develop thinking problems.
A similar study found 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.
Significance of Early Diagnosis
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 47 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common type. In the U.S., about 5.5 million people have the disease. Unfortunately, drugs can’t slow or reverse it, just ease symptoms. But doctors do believe that earlier diagnoses and earlier treatment have benefits. So the significance of this study is that speech and hearing tests are affordable and easy ways to start the diagnosis process. Identifying an early indicator of Alzheimer’s could have significant impact on future treatment.
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