Researchers are Using a Program to Test Speech for Signs of Concussion

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When a person is believed to have suffered a traumatic brain injury or concussion, they are tested on numerous things. Memory is one of the first things tested, but doctors also examine reaction time, balance, eye movement, and sight, which are all combined with a report of the symptoms the patient listed.

Doctors from the University of Notre Dame believe we may be able to add another area to testing and analysis: the way we talk. Researchers from the school have created a voice-analysis program which runs on a tablet that could be added to the gamut of tests coaches and health professionals run on the sidelines of high-impact sports.

The team has identified concussions in boxers in a preliminary study, but they will soon begin testing the app on roughly 1,000 youth and high school football players.

The program works by evaluating the vowel segments spoken by a player from a set of predetermined words and then analyzes that sound for changes that may indicate a brain injury.

Numerous previous studies have shown that brain injuries can change speech characteristics, specifically with negative effects on vowel production.

“The preliminary results were very promising,” graduate student Nikhil Yadav says. The test wasn’t perfect though. Technology Review says it also falsely identified concussions in three boxers out of the 125 studied. “That’s low in this early stage, but we don’t want to see false positives,” says Yadav. Before the study of football players begins, the team hope to fine tune the test to minimize such errors.

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