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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.
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.
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.
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.
Semantic verbal fluency (SVF) tasks require individuals to name items from a specified category within a fixed time. An impaired SVF performance is well documented in patients with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI). The two leading theoretical views suggest either loss of semantic knowledge or impaired executive control to be responsible.
We assessed SVF 3 times on 2 consecutive days in 29 healthy controls (HC) and 29 patients with aMCI with the aim to answer the question which of the two views holds true.
When doing the task for the first time, patients with aMCI produced fewer and more common words with a shorter mean response latency. When tested repeatedly, only healthy volunteers increased performance. Likewise, only the performance of HC indicated two distinct retrieval processes: a prompt retrieval of readily available items at the beginning of the task and an active search through semantic space towards the end. With repeated assessment, the pool of readily available items became larger in HC, but not patients with aMCI.
The production of fewer and more common words in aMCI points to a smaller search set and supports the loss of semantic knowledge view. The failure to improve performance as well as the lack of distinct retrieval processes point to an additional impairment in executive control. Our data did not clearly favour one theoretical view over the other, but rather indicates that the impairment of patients with aMCI in SVF is due to a combination of both.
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