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$1 million in grants to detect dementia through voice assistant systems

Becky Doane and her husband, Rick, loved traveling. The pair said making memories together has kept their marriage strong. But, when Rick was diagnosed with dementia, it was devastating.

“We were too far along in the process,” Becky said, “before it was diagnosed.”

But there is a new effort underway that could help families diagnose dementia early, using technology that is already in homes across the country.

The National Institute of Aging awarded researchers over $1 million in grant money to use voice assistant systems, like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home, to detect dementia through changes in a user’s speech.

The health and medical study will take four years. At the end of the study, the NIA hopes researchers will have a new low-cost, passive and practical early dementia detection program.

“Sometimes it’s among the earliest signs,” said Dr. Jaclynn Faffer, president & CEO of Naples Senior Center. “Word substitution, for example. Instead of saying, ‘Pass me the salad dressing,’ they might say, ‘Pass me the salad sauce.'”

Dr. Faffer said early detection could help families get treatment earlier and make big decisions.

“You can make certain life decisions differently,” Dr. Faffer said. “Perhaps not moving away from family and friends who could be your support system.”

For Becky, the program gives her hope that more research will go into early detection so other families could keep the memories they have.

“It would be so helpful for a caregiver, for family members, for loved ones to know early on,” Becky said, “because maybe there’s a chance they could arrest it at a certain stage.”

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
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