One-Minute Speech Test Could Help Assess Dementia Risk

Medscape / By Sara Freeman

BUDAPEST — Analyzing temporal changes in people's speech could be a simple way of detecting mild cognitive impairment to see whether there is a risk of developing dementia in the future, suggests research.

János Kálmán, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Szeged in Hungary have developed an automated speech analysis approach called the Speech-Gap Test (S-GAP Test) that is unique because it focuses on the temporal changes made when someone talks. This means it does not overcomplicate matters by also assessing the phonetics and semantics of speech, Kálmán told Medscape Medical News. 

Kálmán presented his findings at the 32nd European Congress of Psychiatry. 

Temporal Speech Parameters

The test analyzes parameters such as how quickly someone speaks, whether they hesitate when they talk, how long the hesitation lasts, and how many silent pauses they make. This can be done with a mere 60-second sample of speech, Kálmán said, noting that other automated speech and language tools currently in development need much longer audio samples. 

"We tried different approaches and we finally ended up with the temporal speech parameters because these are not culture-dependent, not education-dependent, and could be more reliable than the semantic parts of [speech] analysis," he explained.

The analysis of temporal speech parameters is also not language-dependent. Although the S-GAP Test was developed using audio samples from native Hungarian speakers, Kálmán and his collaborators have shown that it works just as well with samples from native English and German speakers. They now plan to validate the test further using samples from native Spanish speakers. 

For Screening, Not Diagnosis

Currently, "the only purpose of this tool would be initial screening," Kálmán said at the congress. It is not for diagnosis, and there is no intention to get it registered as a medical device. 

A national survey of primary care physicians conducted by Kálmán and collaborators showed that there was little time for performing standard cognitive tests during the average consultation. Thus, the original idea was that the S-GAP Test would be an aid to help primary care physicians quickly flag whether a patient might have cognitive problems that needed further assessment at a memory clinic or by more specialist neurology services. 

The goalposts have since been moved, from developing a pure telemedicine solution to a more widespread application that perhaps anyone could buy and download from the internet or using a smartphone. 

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