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Chatbot for dementia screening: work underway to replace traditional tests

An Australian researcher is using machine learning to identify early signs of dementia.

QUT PhD data science researcher Ahmed Alkenani has developed models using language features to identify mild cognitive impairment (MCI), possible Alzheimer’s dementia (PoAD), and probable Alzheimer’s dementia (AD).

Alkenani said that as dementia advanced a person’s language comprehension and spoken complexity declined.

“It is possible to identify language changes years prior to developing dementia, which highlights the importance of linguistic analysis for early dementia detection.”

The study analysed language samples from DementiaBank, an open-source database of language samples from people with various stages of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Alkenani said: “We found people with dementia leaned towards using fewer nouns but more verbs, pronouns and adjectives as dementia progressed compared to healthy adults.

“For instance, we found noun to verb ratio and verb to noun ratio to be significant in differentiating both AD and MCI from healthy people.”

He said the findings show that early stages of dementia can be efficiently diagnosed through linguistic patterns and deficits using machine learning models.

“Early, accurate diagnosis is important to enable clinicians to intervene in time to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s dementia.

“Currently the initial diagnosis is performed with pen-and-paper screening tests such as the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA).

“These traditional tests are normally clinic-based and involve a series of questions and tasks to assess short-term memory, attention, repetition and orientation.

“Traditional tests rely on the neurologist’s experience and level of expertise for delivery and assessment and the results are typically affected by the patient’s age (possibility of normal age-related cognitive decline) and level of education.”

The team’s ultimate aim is to develop a conversational agent or chatbot that could be used remotely to facilitate the initial diagnosis of early stage dementia as an attempt to replace traditional screening tests.

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