Your speech might indicate early mental decline

Your speech might indicate early mental decline

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted the largest study ever done on speech analysis for mental decline.

Researchers video-taped a group of participants two years apart describing a photo. Those who had mild cognitive impairment (changes that are noticeable to the person or others, but that don’t interfere with daily life) in the early-stage slipped much faster on certain verbal skills than those in the group who did not develop thinking problems.

The picture description test was first given to 400 people without cognitive problems, and no changes were noted in verbal skills after two years.

Then, 264 people in their 50s and 60s, most of whom had a parent with Alzheimer’s (which might put them at higher risk for the disease,) were tested. Sixty-four of them had signs of early decline at the first test or developed it over the two years.

These speech signs included:

  • Declining faster on expression of ideas (content used)
  • A decline in fluency (the flow of speech and the number of pauses and filler words, like um and uh, used)
  • The use of more pronouns such as “it” and “they” instead of using an item or person’s name
  • Shortened sentences
  • Greater length in the time it took the person to express what they wanted to say

You can listen to audio of the test here.

“What we’ve discovered here is there are aspects of language that are affected earlier than we thought, before or at the same time that memory problems emerge,” said Sterling Johnson, a study leader.

“This study supports the idea of how important expressive language is. Dementia is not just about remembering or recalling something, but more about how we remember or recall something,” says Dr. MaryAnhthu Thi Do, a neurologist who specializes in Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia-related illnesses at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

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About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”