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Speech and Hearing Perspectives

The Living Past

Published December 17, 2015 12:35 PM by Speech Merion

By Tamer Abouras

Has anyone ever accused you of “living in the past?” It’s a tough charge. It’s the kind of phrase you both take at face value — because it usually has some reference to your physical presentation — and dissect. It cuts to the core of a character flaw; you’re preoccupied with something that no longer exists.

Any discussion of the past — without getting too deep in the weeds — is always just one step away from a philosophical deep dive, isn’t it? It all fades away and the most we can hold onto from it is sensory, so the further away we get from any particular point, the more we have to fill in the gaps.

At the same time, there’s a conflict. Beyond the necessity of understanding some amount of history or gleaning lessons from lived experience, aren’t all relationships fundamentally built upon familiarity? We love and care for each other, but the degree to which we truly know each other is inherently tied to how much of the past we retain.

All of which contributes to what makes Alzheimer’s so devastating and heartbreaking. Progressively, someone you love is losing their grasp on who they are, who you are and on reality itself. While it remains harrowing and there is no known cure for the disease yet, its gradual nature means that the earlier one can have an accurate diagnosis, the better they can deal with the implications and brace for inevitable increase in symptoms.

SEE ALSO: Behavior Change in Patients with Dementia

Thanks to a new study led by Toronto Rehabilitation Institute scientist, Dr. Frank Rudzicz, and published in the December issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, computerized language analysis may be able to provide patients and their families that precious time to prepare in better than four out of five cases.

According to Neuroscience News, “It was determined that four collective dimensions of speech are indicative of dementia: semantic impairment, such as using overly simple words; acoustic impairment, such as speaking more slowly; syntactic impairment, such as using less complex grammar; and information impairment, such as not clearly identifying the main aspects of a picture.”

“Previous to our study, language factors were connected to Alzheimer’s disease, but often only related to delayed memory or a person’s ability to follow instructions,” said Rudzicz. “This study characterizes the diversity of language impairments experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease, and our automated detection algorithm takes this into account.”

The result of this study was that Rudzicz and his team of researchers were able to diagnose Alzheimer’s with more than 82% accuracy by making evaluations based upon those four linguistic factors. The next step will be to begin testing the screening technology on current patients and control subjects in order to validate the approach.

Until Alzheimer’s is finally cured, the disease will continue to take our loved ones from us even before they pass away. Thanks to studies like this one, though, we’ll have a better chance to say a long goodbye.

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