Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Voice and brain

In the last article, we learned how closely related physical and mental fitness are. This becomes obvious in many areas and the insights gained can serve many purposes, including early detection of neurological diseases. For example, 6.3 million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, which causes, amongst other symptoms, weakness, tremor and rigidity. Diagnosing it is effortful and expensive. What if we could use the mentioned insights gained from the interrelations between brain and physical fitness to diagnose the disease?

Max Little, a mathematician from MIT Media Lab, found an interrelation between Parkinson’s disease and the way we speak. The disease apparently causes weakness, tremor and rigidity in our speech just as much as it does in our body movements. Using precision voice analysis along with machine learning could, in his way, thus offer new ways of diagnosing the disease in a very early stadium. In a TED Talk, he explains how.

The research on the project is ongoing. According to Mr Little, it is possible to detect the disease with a 99 per cent accuracy already, simply by analysing an “aaah”. At the moment, the research group is trying to gather the voice data of 10,000 people. For this purpose, they have established phone numbers from which anyone can call in order to have their voices analysed. The phone numbers are displayed the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative home page.

Again, we can draw the conclusion that mental and physical health are closely related and that all our systems are. This means that looking after ourselves well in one domain is likely to be beneficial for other domains as well. And all domains seem to be important for our overall health and well-being.

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