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Voice Analysis May Allow Early Detection of Parkinson's

Changes in speech occur before other symptoms, could help speed diagnosis, findings show

FRIDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- A new voice analysis technique can identify changes in speech associated with the early stages of Parkinson's disease, a new study has found.

"This is a noninvasive, reliable and accurate technique that only requires the patient to read out a few simple sentences," Shimon Sapir, of the department of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Haifa in Israel, who developed the new test, said in a university news release.

In many cases, Parkinson's disease is diagnosed based on muscle rigidity, tremors, slow movement and loss of balance. But by the time these symptoms are present, the disease is already well-advanced.

Since the muscles controlling voice and speech are affected in most people with Parkinson's disease, Sapir decided to develop an acoustic analysis method that identified differences between the speech of people with Parkinson's disease and healthy people. The method also tracks voice changes that occur in response to treatment or disease progression.

A series of tests showed that the new acoustic analysis technique is effective. The findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

"Doctors and scientists agree that early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is important in order to slow down or even prevent the degenerative progress of this disease," Sapir said. "Today no treatment is available to this effect, but when treatment becomes feasible, early diagnosis is going to be crucial. There are various methods of brain imaging for detecting early signs of Parkinson's disease, but these methods are expensive -- particularly when attempting to screen a large population at risk. Hence the importance of developing techniques for early diagnosis that are valid, reliable, non-invasive, simple, readily available and inexpensive."

But Sapir added that "while our initial results are very encouraging, additional studies must be carried out in order to examine the new method. Also, given that the disease and its progression have different effects on individuals, speech analysis must be incorporated into a battery of tests that examine other signs and symptoms of the disease, such as changes in handwriting, cognitive functions, sense of smell, and more."

More information

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-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Haifa, news release, April 2010

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