News Release 

New research utilizes voice assistant systems for early detection of cognitive decline

Can your Amazon Alexa or Google Home measure and predict if you are in the early stages of cognitive impairment?

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

LEBANON, NH - Researchers from Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) and the University of Massachusetts Boston were recently awarded a four-year grant award totaling $1,179,714 from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, to use Voice Assistant Systems, such as Amazon's Alexa and Google Home, to detect early cognitive impairment.

The project aims to improve early detection using voice and language to identify individuals in an early stage of cognitive impairment before they present to clinical providers as the diagnosis is often difficult and made late in the disease process. The team includes John A. Batsis, MD, a D-H Geriatrician and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Robert Roth, PhD, a D-H neuropsychologist and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Geisel, and Xiaohui Liang, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts Boston. This team will develop the system, use machine and deep learning techniques, and collect data on patient participants to provide feedback to patients, caregivers and clinicians. If successful, the outcomes of this project will allow the team to conduct widespread testing of this system, complementing existing diagnostic modalities that could enable long-term patient and caregiver planning to maintain an individual's independence at home.

"Alzheimer's disease and related dementias are a major public health concern that lead to high health costs, risk of nursing home placement, and place an inordinate burden on the whole family," says Batsis. "The ability to plan in the early stages of the disease is essential for initiating interventions and providing support systems to improve patients' everyday function and quality of life."

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) in older adults living alone is essential for developing, planning, and ensuring adequate support at home for patients and their families. This project aims to develop a low-cost and practical home-based assessment method using Voice Assistant Systems (VAS) for early detection of cognitive decline.

"We are tackling a significant and complicated data-science question: whether the collection of long-term speech patterns of individuals at home will enable us to develop new speech-analysis methods for early detection of this challenging disease," says Liang. "Our team envisions that the changes in the speech patterns of individuals using the voice assistant systems may be sensitive to their decline in memory and function over time."

The team will conduct an 18-month laboratory evaluation and a 28-month home evaluation with a focus on whether the Voice Assistant Systems tasks and features can measure and predict an individual's decline in the home participants over time.

Additional collaborators on this project include Brian MacWhinney, PhD, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and David Kotz, PhD, from Dartmouth College.

Research reported in this release was supported by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01AG067416

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DARTMOUTH-HITCHCOCK HEALTH (D-HH), New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves a population of 1.9 million across Northern New England. D-H provides access to more than 2,400 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. DHMC was named in 2019 as the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 13 clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health also includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation; the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state's only children's hospital; affiliated member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene, and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. The D-H system trains nearly 400 residents and fellows annually, and performs world-class research, in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT.

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