Researchers use AI to predict Alzheimer’s disease 7 years before clinical diagnosis

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IBM and Pfizer developed an AI that looks at speech patterns over time for markers of the crippling degenerative disease.

Alzheimer’s is a crippling degenerative disease, but the answer to early diagnosis might lie in speech.

I was afraid my grandmother wouldn’t remember who I was the last time I saw her in person. She looked small and frail in the wheelchair but I could still see the sparkle in her eyes. Our relationship was complicated, but when she said she remembered me, none of it mattered any more.

I sat by her wheelchair and tried to cram in a decade of memories and happenings. Every few moments, it was like she’d reset, and would ask what I’d been up to all these years. We’d go through everything again. We only had a few precious hours before she didn’t remember who I was anymore, no matter how many stories I told her.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that over 5 million Americans live with, and that number is only expected to grow, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But IBM Research and Pfizer have developed a new AI model that uses quick speech tests to help predict the onset of the disease in healthy people, the companies said Thursday. The AI’s accuracy is about 70%, potentially giving people up to seven years’ notice before symptoms of cognitive decline.

The disease can seem like it sneaks in, beginning with symptoms that may be misinterpreted as typical age-related changes. These early warning flags are important to recognize, as they’re a sign of coming cognitive decline. The sooner clinicians can detect Alzheimer’s disease, the more that can be done to help a patient, even though there’s no cure to date.

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