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Published on: July 29, 2016
A new technology that analyzes a person’s natural speech to detect and monitor Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders has won the AGE-WELL Pitch Competition -Technology to Support People with Dementia.
The new tablet-based assessment tool records short samples of a person’s speech as they describe a picture – even a family photo – on the screen. It extracts hundreds of variables from the samples, producing results in under five minutes.
“Speech is a rich source of information on people’s cognitive health,” said Liam Kaufman, CEO and Co-founder of Winterlight Labs, who developed the tool with Dr. Frank Rudzicz, Maria Yancheva and Katie Fraser of the University of Toronto. Dr. Rudzicz is also a scientist at Toronto Rehab-University Health Network in Toronto, Canada.
“Because of word-finding difficulties, people with Alzheimer’s disease will tend to pause more between words and the complexity of their vocabulary is reduced, so they will use a word such as ‘car’ instead of ‘SUV’ or ‘sedan,'” Kaufman told a panel of expert judges at the AGE-WELL Pitch Competition on July 23 in Toronto.
The new technology uses artificial intelligence to analyze about 400 variables, such as pitch, tone, prosody (rhythm), and rate of speech, as well as pauses and choice of words. In the laboratory, the software can reliably identify Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and aphasia with between 85% and 100% accuracy.
The new approach is fast and objective, and improves on time-consuming ‘pencil-and-paper’ neuro-psychological assessments, which can be stressful for people with memory problems, said Kaufman, a software developer.
The researchers are set to begin field tests in assisted living and home care settings, with funding from AGE-WELL. Five organizations which collectively care for over 100,000 seniors are partnering with Winterlight Labs.
The tool will be used in seniors’ facilities to improve ongoing monitoring of residents’ cognitive health, provide family members with quantifiable updates and help everyone plan when it’s time to transition to a higher level of care, said Kaufman.
Regulatory approval will be sought in Canada and the United States to make the technology available to family doctors and speech-language pathologists.
“The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is growing worldwide, and new technologies like this novel speech-assessment tool present a real opportunity to help people with dementia and those who care for them,” said Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Ph.D P.Eng., Scientific Director, AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence.
Ten teams from Canada and around the world competed in the AGE-WELL Pitch Competition, which showcased a wide variety of technology solutions that address the many challenges faced by people living with dementia.
Second place was awarded to an automated vision system for ongoing pain assessment and monitoring in dementia, while third place went to MotioSens Inc., which develops smart-home technologies.
“The quality, breadth and depth of the ideas presented was impressive,” said Mary Michael, Senior Director, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and one of the event’s speakers. “It is going to take multiple modalities of solutions to really make an impact on Alzheimer’s disease, so it is exciting to see such a diverse range of technologies and services aimed at disrupting Alzheimer’s.”
The pitch event was co-hosted by the Global Council on Alzheimer’s Disease (GCAD) and sponsored by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., Aging2.0 Local | Toronto, the Ontario Brain Institute, and the Women’s Brain Health Initiative. For more information on the finalists, judges and prize package, please visit: www.agewell-nce.ca/pitch-event.
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