News ArchivesRead News

Speech test may help diagnose Parkinson's

Tuesday November 27, 2012

Using professional recording equipment and computer algorithms, researchers have had success detecting tiny changes in speech patterns that may point to the disease in its early stages.
Robin Erb

www.usa.today.com - - DETROIT -- Identifying Parkinson's disease one day might be as easy as a speech test -- a non-invasive, inexpensive tool that in early experiments has shown surprisingly accurate results, a Michigan State University researcher said Wednesday.

The key: Tiny changes in speech that occur early in Parkinson's development and can be detected by professional recording equipment and computer algorithms -- perhaps even before loved ones notice slurred or slow speech or other symptoms, said Rahul Shrivastav, professor and chairman of Michigan State University's Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders.

The method detected those with Parkinson's and those without nine out of 10 times.

Changes in speech patterns are noticeable in late-stage Parkinson's, Shrivastav said. But in early stages, "the changes are small … they are not necessary big enough to notice."

Parkinson's affects nerve cells that use the brain chemical dopamine to help control muscle movement. Over time, the dopamine levels fall and nerve cells no longer properly send messages, leading to loss of muscle function, tremors and even dementia, Shrivastav said.

That can affect speech because muscle movements in the jaw and tongue become slow and have a reduced range, he said.

Over several years, Shrivastav and colleagues at the University of Florida's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences tested 76 men and women ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s, half of whom had been diagnosed with Parkinson's.

They asked the participants to recite 10 sentences that covered different sounds, including: "The beer drinkers raised their mugs" and "The boat sailed along the coast."

Special software developed by the team then dissected the speech sentence by sentence and in pieces that were just 1/50th of a second long.

Using thousands of readings, the software this year correctly differentiated the speech between patients with Parkinson's and those without Parkinson's most of the time. It was so sensitive, in fact, that it could make a determination with just two seconds of speech.

"We anticipated good results, but getting two seconds and 90 percent -- that was a surprise," Shrivastav said.

Parkinson's is one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly, and about 50,000 new cases are reported annually, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers have tried for years to understand the disease, but the cause and cure remain evasive, said Maureen Gartner, information and referral nurse for the Cincinnati-based Tri-State Parkinson's Wellness Chapter, a chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association that covers Michigan.

"We don't know where it starts, so any new twist that could help us diagnose it earlier would be great," she said.

Recent News

Nov 22 - A caregiver's story: Living and loving through the slow process of dying
Nov 19 - Testosterone cause of sex differences in the occurrence of Parkinson’s disease, new research suggests
Nov 18 - New strategy reduces side effects in Parkinson's treatment
Nov 14 - Opinion: The never-ending tests of Parkinson's disease
Nov 13 - Parkinson’s disease: A new tool for diagnosis
Nov 10 - Parkinson's Disease Drug May Be Useful For Delaying, Preventing Blindness In Older Population
Nov 9 - Microsoft VP’s diagnosis fuels employees’ heartfelt efforts to help others
Nov 6 - Lewy body dementia: unrecognized and misdiagnosed
Nov 5 - Gait difficulties in Parkinson's linked to new blood vessels in brain
Oct 30 - Special Section: Enabling Technologies for Parkinson’s Disease Management
Oct 27 - Scientists discover a 'switchboard' of molecules that protect against Parkinson's disease
Oct 26 - Dancing improves mobility and quality of life in people with Parkinson's
Oct 23 - The amazing woman who can smell Parkinson’s disease — before symptoms appear
Oct 20 - Personal Essay: The deviousness of dementia
Oct 19 - Mechanism that 'melts' protein clumps may lead to new Parkinson's treatments
Oct 19 - Researchers find that stem cell treatment may reduce cognitive impairment related to dementia with Lewy bodies
Oct 17 - Cancer Drug Helps Parkinson's Patients
Oct 12 - Researchers identify immune gene that can prevent Parkinson's disease and dementia
Oct 12 - Blog Post: An Alert, Well-Hydrated Artist in No Acute Distress
Oct 7 - This month, a brain surgery will be broadcast on live TV for the first time ever