Parkinson's disease could be spotted years earlier by studying a simple voice recording
A team at MIT has developed a computer programme that is able to recognise the tremors, breathiness and weakness in the voiceThese symtpoms are thought to be early indicators of the degenerative conditionStudy leader Dr Max Little is building up a database of 10,000 voices to support his project
15:05 GMT, 26 September 2012
Leaving a simple phone message could help spot the early signs of Parkinson’s years before serious symptoms develop, say scientists.
Researchers have discovered they can detect the disease through voice recordings with initial studies already showing a 99 per cent accuracy rate.
A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a computer programme that is able to recognise the tremors, breathiness and weakness in the voice, which are thought to be early indicators of the condition.
The technology works partly by tracking the motion of the vocal cords and detecting any tremor
The voice analysis software can even provide an unprecedented level of detail that can distinguish how far along a patient is with the disease.
The Parkinson’s Voice Initiative led by British scientist Dr Max Little, is looking to see if the same results can be repeated with voice recordings taken over the telephone.
Dr Little’s wider study calls on healthy volunteers as well as patients with Parkinson’s to take part in a three minute phone call where they are asked to say 'aah', speak a few sentences and answer some questions.
Dr Little is creating a database of voices to help diagnose Parkinson's
If the research proves successful, it
could have the potential to offer hope to thousands of people and become
a quick and cheap diagnostic tool of the future that can be done from
the comfort of the home.
Dr Little said: 'Science tells us voice impairment might be an early sign of Parkinson’s. It sounds counterintuitive as Parkinson’s is a movement disorder but the voice is a form of movement.
'We don’t tend to think of the larynx and vocal chords but you are moving them when you make speech sounds. It’s a complex sound of movement and it tends to degrade in Parkinson’s.
'Neurologists look at changes in the ability to move, which is done with the limbs, but we are looking in the vocal organs – the sounds that come out of the mouth.
'We are fairly confident we can detect the disease over the telephone.'
The breakthrough technology could alert doctors to prescribe early treatment, which could slow the progress of the disease.
The current approach to a Parkinson’s diagnosis can take years, as there is no blood test that detects it.
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research at Parkinson’s UK described the study as an 'exciting prospect'.
Mr Little says combining voice recordings with computer technology can show exactly where someone lies between health and disease
He said: 'The Parkinson’s Voice Initiative could lead to voice recognition tests that can diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s.
know that speech is often affected in people with Parkinson’s – so
developing a test that can spot the earliest subtle changes is an
'At the moment we don’t have a
definitive test to diagnose Parkinson’s, and no reliable way to monitor
the development of the condition – which is a massive barrier to finding
Bob Hoskins has retired from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson's
'Finding simple and accurate ways to diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s is one of our key research priorities.'
There are 127,000 sufferers in the UK living with the incurable disease with the number set to soar due to the ageing population.
Parkinson’s disease often starts with hand tremors followed by symptoms including muscle rigidity or stiffness and slow movement.
Sufferers don’t have enough of a chemical called dopamine because some cells in their brain have died. Without dopamine people can find that their movements become slower so it takes longer to do things.
Most people who get Parkinson’s are over 50. American actor Michael J Fox, 51, was diagnosed in 1991 and boxing legend Muhammad Ali, 70, who appeared in the London Olympics opening ceremony, also has the condition. Veteran actor Bob Hoskins, 69, announced earlier this year he would be retiring from acting after being diagnosed with the disease.
The researchers are building up a database of 10,000 voices from across the globe to aid their study. To take part and leave a voice recording, call 01865 521168 from the UK or 1857 2848035 from the U.S or visit www.parkinsonsvoice.org