One obstacle to the treatment of Alzheimer's – six hundred thousand people in Italy – is the absence of obvious symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When it comes to "hole" memory, dementia is usually overt. At that point, there is little to be done to hinder its development. But what is known today is that, before it manifests itself clearly, Alzheimer's goes through a phase that can last several years, maybe even decades, during which, although the symptoms are minimal, this disease determines the decisive brain damage. will cause disorders that occur under the name of dementia. There are a number of signs that must be confiscated, if put together, at least must encourage to deepen the investigation. One is given by language changes that, in adults or older people who have never suffered before, can make someone suspect a diagnosis of Alzheimer's.
Hunting for Alzheimer's through language: an experiment with 96 people
To confirm the hypothesis is the result of a study conducted by a group of scientists from the University of Bologna and Santa Maria Nuova Arcispedale in Reggio Emilia, published in the journal "Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience". The researchers worked with 96 people, some of whom had (already at the start of the study) some signs of mild cognitive impairment: a condition that might precede the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
During the experiment, each participant was asked to describe the details of the picture, then the workday and finally the last dream they remembered. After answers are collected, they are analyzed using certain natural language processing techniques: able to examine the rhythm and sound of words, use of vocabulary and syntax and other details of linguistic production.
By comparing the response of subjects with mild cognitive impairment to disease-free subjects, the challenge of the researchers was to be able to find signs of the presence of cognitive disorders that could not be identified by conventional neuropsychological tests. Comparison, at the end of the analysis, returns the desired results.
These are signs that must remind us
Yes, but what are the previous disabilities that might be appropriate to deepen the investigation? Researchers, also referring to conclusions from other publications, describe them in discussions about work: lengthening pauses, decreasing frequency with words emitted and non-fluent discursive forces appear to be sensitive indicators that can be detected under conditions of mild cognitive impairment (wrong one in five of these people is destined to develop dementia).
So be careful if the interlocutor used to argue without problems starts to show longer doubts, needs to rest longer and is expressed in a low tone of voice. Language impoverishment, acoustic deficits, lack of information and high levels of syntactic and grammatical errors are other "spies" that should not be missed. Being able to identify these small hidden signals in oral language can also be fundamental to dealing effectively with other diseases or conditions, often treatable.
"In addition to the initial diagnosis of dementia – said Enrico Ghidoni, head of the central neurocognitive disorder Hospital Santa Maria Nuova Reggio Emilia – this type of survey can help recognize cognitive symptoms due to some chronic diseases or inappropriate pharmacological treatments, often reversible".
Other possible alarm sounds
Alzheimer's causes a slow decline in cognitive skills. At present there is no possibility to predict disease progression, even if there are various cognitive tests that investigate deficit areas. Experts show at least ten warning bells: the emergence of amnesia (subjects begin to have difficulty remembering what has happened recently), the impossibility of completing simple tasks (all activities previously done with lightening are now more complicated), language disorders, difficulties in reasoning, disorientation in space and time (it becomes difficult to answer questions about the day of the week or the place where someone is or already exists), irritability and delirium, anxiety and depression, apathy and abulia.