The rise and popularity of voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home devices has opened up many new possibilities and, in the near future, could possibly assist caregivers and the medical community with diagnosing dementia early.
Thanks to a four-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Aging, researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and University of Massachusetts Boston will have the opportunity to explore this possibility in depth. The funding of such a large study is an important milestone in dementia research and a positive sign that key stakeholders are catching on to the ripple effect dementia has in our communities.
Once research begins, the team has plans to study whether in-home smart devices can pick up on subtle, yet important changes that give clues to early dementia development, such as changes in speech patterns. Because the devices record voices and rely on artificial intelligence to recognize when being spoken to and even nuances like tone and inflection, they may be able to notice subtle changes before humans do.
While there are still specifics of the research that need to be sorted out, such as the privacy of research participants and how to differentiate speech patterns in households with more than one member in them, this is an important step in unlocking tools for early diagnosis. As more devices integrate artificial intelligence capabilities, the possibilities of using them for medical diagnoses are essentially endless.
The caregiving community is no stranger to using smart devices to provide better care; some caregivers rely on these smart devices to help with things the memory impaired may struggle with when they can’t be there. Some of these uses include medication reminders, weather updates, appointment reminders and assisting with tasks that are often forgotten like shutting off lights, locking doors or closing garages. Depending on the device and other smart technology enabled throughout a home, these devices can sometimes also alert family members in emergency situations.
Every week seems to bring more news about exciting research being done to better understand the causes and symptoms of dementia. At the same time, it is important to remain steadfast in our mission to boost dementia awareness.