Measuring neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with early cognitive decline using speech analysis

König, A., Mallick, E., Tröger, J., Linz, N., Zeghari, R., Manera, V., and Robert, P. (2021). Measuring neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with early cognitive decline using speech analysis. Eur Psychiatry, 64(1):e64. doi:10.1192/j.eurpsy.2021.2236


Background. Certain neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS), namely apathy, depression, and anxiety demonstrated great value in predicting dementia progression, representing eventually an opportunity window for timely diagnosis and treatment. However, sensitive and objective markers of these symptoms are still missing. Therefore, the present study aims to investigate the association between automatically extracted speech features and NPS in patients with mild neurocognitive disorders.

Methods. Speech of 141 patients aged 65 or older with neurocognitive disorder was recorded while performing two short narrative speech tasks. NPS were assessed by the neuropsychiatric inventory. Paralinguistic markers relating to prosodic, formant, source, and temporal qualities of speech were automatically extracted, correlated with NPS. Machine learning experiments were carried out to validate the diagnostic power of extracted markers.

Results. Different speech variables are associated with specific NPS; apathy correlates with temporal aspects, and anxiety with voice quality—and this was mostly consistent between male and female after correction for cognitive impairment. Machine learning regressors are able to extract information from speech features and perform above baseline in predicting anxiety, apathy, and depression scores.

Conclusions. Different NPS seem to be characterized by distinct speech features, which are easily extractable automatically from short vocal tasks. These findings support the use of speech analysis for detecting subtypes of NPS in patients with cognitive impairment. This could have great implications for the design of future clinical trials as this cost-effective method could allow more continuous and even remote monitoring of symptoms.

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