How we speak could predict Alzheimer’s in later life, new research claims

Caregiver consoling a senior male patient in a nursing home during the day. Alzheimer's
A new AI algorithm could be able to predict the likelihood of Alzheimer's from speech alone. (Getty Images)

Alzheimer’s disease is a common ailment among ageing Brits, with 1 in every 14 people aged over 65 affected by it, which rises to 1 in 6 Brits ages over 80 – but, what if you could predict the disease long before it starts?

New research has found that we may soon be able to predict the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s by analysing the way we speak.

To find these results, scientists from Boston University in the UK developed a new algorithm using artificial intelligence (AI) which looks at the speech pattern in those with mild cognitive impairment. It found that this algorithm can predict the progression of this impairment to Alzheimer’s with a 78.5% accuracy.

To do this the algorithm looked at audio recordings of 166 people between the aged of 63 and 97, and determined that 90 of the participant’s current cognitive function would eventually lead to Alzheimer’s.

The algorithm also used age and sex along with its speech analysis to provide the final predictive score.

“You can think of the score as the likelihood, the probability, that someone will remain stable or transition to dementia,” Ioannis Paschalidis, from Boston University, said.

“We wanted to predict what would happen in the next six years – and we found we can reasonably make that prediction with relatively good confidence and accuracy. It shows the power of AI.”

Woman hugging her elderly mother
The team used AI to come up with the algorithm. (Getty Images)

Paschalidis adds that the benefit of being able to predict the likelihood of dementia is that it allows a wider window to intervene with any necessary medications.

“If you can predict what will happen, you have more of an opportunity and time window to intervene with drugs, and at least try to maintain the stability of the condition and prevent the transition to more severe forms of dementia,” he adds.

It comes just weeks after a separate study found that people whose mothers have or had Alzheimer’s were more likely to get dementia themselves.

Researchers in the UK discovered that the levels in amyloid, which is a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease, was higher in those whose mother had Alzheimer’s, or even just symptoms of Alzheimer’s.