Millions of boomers around the world (210 million in China alone) want to know: Is my forgetting normal aging? Naturally, the brain’s hippocampus shrinks about 2% per decade, so forgetting comes with age. However, what if this is not normal? Cognitive testing is not available for daily monitoring.
Dementia is a syndrome associated with a deterioration in memory, language, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions that perform daily activities. According to the estimation of WHO, there are around 50 million people having dementia worldwide, and this number is increasing by nearly 10 million every year. Amongst many different forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common one and contributes to 60–70% of total cases.
Screening for MCI or Dementia is typically conducted through paper-and-pencil cognitive tests, such as the Mini Mental Status Examination (MMSE) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). Although cheap and quick to administer, the scoring process totally relies on the personal judgment of clinicians, which may introduce errors and result in a high inter-rater variability.
Clinical options are more accurate but invasive: Better than a one-time paper and pencil test with a specialist is an expensive MRI with a lumbar tap to obtain cerebral-spinal-fluid. Clinicians are not keen to prescribe this procedure since even with evidence of the disease, no cure is available.
To address these issues, extensive studies have been carried out for the purpose of conducting cognitive assessment remotely. One promising direction is speech-based screening. Speech signals can be relatively easily collected throughout the day without burdening the participants or the researchers. Moreover, the rapid development of speech technology and deep learning algorithms provides a good opportunity to utilize speech data for automatic screening of dementia and to finally bring speech-based methods into pre-clinical and clinical practice.
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