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Research detects signs of dementia in speech patterns

Health & Wellbeing

The researchers' findings could enable earlier diagnoses and more effective interventions

Spotted: With ageing populations around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognises dementia as a “public health priority”. And, as more people are diagnosed with the disease, the pressure on all stages of healthcare systems increases.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) recently identified early linguistic markers of dementia identifiable through everyday speech. Led by principal investigator Professor Bao Zhiming from the NUS Department of English, Linguistics, and Theatre Studies (ELTS), the team studied 149 Singaporean residents in their 60s and 70s.

Singapore citizens’ widespread use of a variety of languages, including four official languages and numerous dialects, made the study group a particularly valuable source of information. The scientists found that the participants in the study with a diagnosis of the type of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) that often develops into Alzheimer’s, used fewer and more abstract nouns and overall spoke less than those without a diagnosis of MCI, and those with a different type of MCI.

The difference in speech patterns revealed a noticeable difficulty in using and understanding nouns that create mental imagery, which involves the part of the brain that produces memory and is ultimately what many dementias affect.

Such findings have the potential to help practitioners identify MCI earlier and far less intrusively than is possible with the testing that’s currently available to healthcare teams. Additionally, linguistic biomarkers of the disease are useful for developing support tools and earlier interventions for people with MCI that could help extend their quality of life and ability to live independently.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Email: ellbaozm@nus.edu.sg

Website: fass.nus.edu.sg

Contact: fass.nus.edu.sg/contact

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