Medical Moment: Using a computer to detect dementia early

Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 6:05 PM EST
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(WNDU) - According to the World Health Organization, more than 10,000,000 people are diagnosed with dementia each year worldwide.

Using a simple recording of your voice and a special computer could help early detection of dementia.

Neurological tests to determine a person’s cognitive ability can take a lot of time because clinicians have to transcribe, review, and analyze every response in vivid detail. Now, researchers at Boston University have developed a new tool that could automate the process. The machine-learning computer model can detect cognitive impairment from audio recordings of neuropsychological tests without you even having to go to the doctor.

“Why have dementia if we can reduce those things we know are modifiable that are strongly associated with the risk of dementia,” asked James. E. Galvin, MD, at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

By using automated online speech recognition tools like, “Hey, Google!” and a machine learning technique called “natural language processing,” it helps computers understand your recorded text allowing the model to access the likelihood and severity of a person’s cognitive impairment.

Faster and earlier detection of Alzheimer’s could drive larger clinical trials that focus on people in early stages of the disease and potentially enable clinical interventions that slow cognitive decline.

“The idea is that instead of waiting for disease to happen, we try to prevent it from happening first,” Dr. Galvin explained.

The model was not only able to accurately distinguish between healthy people and those with dementia, but ita also detected differences between those with mild cognitive impairment and dementia. As it turns out, the quality of the recordings and how people spoke were less important than the content of what they were actually saying.

According to research out of the University of Manchester, a breakthrough in the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease has revealed changes to blood vessels in the brain, potentially presenting a path for developing new drugs to help fight the disease.

Researchers found that a smaller version of the protein, Amyloid-β 1-40 (Aβ 1-40), builds up in the walls of the small arteries and reduces blood flow to the brain. This narrowing was found to be caused by Aβ 1-40 switching off a protein called BK in cells lining blood vessels. When functioning normally, BK sends a signal which causes arteries to widen. The researchers plan to investigate which part of Aβ 1-40 blocks the BK protein, so drugs to stop this from happening can be developed and tested.

Adam Greenstein, MD, lead researcher and Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Manchester said, “To date, over 500 drugs have been trialed as a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. All of them have targeted the nerves in the brain and none of them have been successful. By showing exactly how Alzheimer’s disease affects the small blood vessels, we have opened the door to new avenues of research to find an effective treatment.”