Researcher seeks to develop voice test to detect Alzheimer's early

19 August 2015

Sona Patel, professor at the Seton Hall University in New Jersey has been awarded a $380,000 grant to carry out research that might lead to a fast, low-cost test to diagnose patients with Alzheimer's by their voices, even over the phone.

Patel is conducting research on the vocal impacts of the disorder.

She is building her study based on previous research that pointed to differences in voice patterns between normally ageing adults, and those with Parkinson's disease. "Your voice is really important," Patel was quoted as saying by the "You react to (stimuli) with your voice automatically, without even realising, the question is if we can use (voices) to indicate other neurological disorders," said Patel.

Patel has received the three-year grant from the National Institute of Deafness and Communicative Disorders. The research would be carried out at Seton Hall's Voice Analytics and Neuropsychology Lab in South Orange.

Patel is using electroencephalogram (EEG), and auditory feedback testing to determine the response of Alzheimer patients to various speech tasks, and if their responses differed from those of Parkinson's patients, and normally ageing adults.

In case her research pointed to changes in voice patterns, Patel said it could be possible to develop non-invasive, less expensive methods to detect whether or not a person in the early stages of a disease had Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

The assistant professor of speech-language pathology aims to identify errors in various speech tasks to search for voice clues in the early onset of the diseases.

''We connect the research participants to an EEG system and a microphone and ask them to say a vowel sound while they listen to themselves through headphones,'' said Patel.

''They are asked to maintain a steady sound, but we make it tricky by changing the auditory feedback (the sound they hear) slightly, such as pitch or loudness, and measure their neural and voice responses.''

Having earlier worked exclusively with Parkinson's patients, Patel is now expanding her research to include patients with Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment, and even those having trouble remembering things.

She is seeking men and women, 50 years of age and older, to participate in research and is collaborating with Hackensack University Medical Center and the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, among others.

A study coauthored by a Brigham Young University (BYU) professor and an undergraduate suggests that people with a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure have a lower risk for Alzheimer's disease. (See: High blood pressure associated with lower risk for Alzheimer's).

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