Using Automatic Assessment of Speech Production to Predict Current and Future Cognitive Function in Older Adults
Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer disease affect millions and have no known cure, making early detection important. In addition to memory impairments, dementia causes substantial changes in speech production, particularly lexical-semantic characteristics. Existing clinical tools for detecting change often require considerable expertise or time, and efficient methods for identifying persons at risk are needed. This study examined whether early stages of cognitive decline can be identified using an automated calculation of lexical-semantic features of participants’ spontaneous speech. Unimpaired or mildly impaired older adults (N = 39, mean 81 years old) produced several monologues (picture descriptions and expository descriptions) and completed a neuropsychological battery, including the Modified Mini-Mental State Exam. Most participants (N = 30) returned one year later for follow-up. Lexical-semantic features of participants’ speech (particularly lexical frequency) were significantly correlated with cognitive status at the same visit and also with cognitive status one year in the future. Thus, automated analysis of speech production is closely associated with current and future cognitive test performance and could provide a novel, scalable method for longitudinal tracking of cognitive health.