How Your Speech Could Offer Hint of Mental Decline

Verbal issues could be a clue to deteriorating cognitive state
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 17, 2017 9:30 AM CDT
'Ums' and 'Uhs' Could Be Clue to Mental Decline
An interesting find via speech analysis.   (Getty Images/shapecharge)

Your speech may, um, help reveal if you're uh ... developing thinking problems. More pauses, filler words, and other verbal changes may be an early sign of mental decline, which can lead to Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests. Per the AP, researchers had 400 people without cognitive problems and 264 people considered to be at risk for Alzheimer's, including 64 people with early-stage mild cognitive impairment (or who developed it over the testing period) describe a picture they were shown in taped sessions two years apart. In the second round of tests, those with early-stage mild cognitive impairment declined faster on content (ideas they expressed) and fluency (the flow of speech and how many pauses and filler words they used). They used more pronouns such as "it" or "they" instead of specific names for things, spoke in shorter sentences, and took longer to convey what they had to say.

This was the largest study ever done of speech analysis for this purpose, and if more testing confirms its value, it might offer a simple, cheap way to help screen people for very early signs of mental decline. Don't panic, though: Lots of people say "um" and have trouble quickly recalling names as they age, and that doesn't mean trouble is on the way. "In normal aging, it's something that may come back to you later and it's not going to disrupt the whole conversation," one of the study's leaders, Kimberly Mueller, explains. "The difference here is, it is more frequent in a short period," interferes with communication, and gets worse over time. The study was discussed Monday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London. (More discoveries stories.)

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