Sonde’s vocal biomarkers to be used in dementia trial

Monitoring via app.
Drazen Zigic via Freepik

Technology developed by Sonde Health to detect and monitor illness using voice patterns will be used to track people in the early stages of cognitive decline in a new US study.

The digital health company’s vocal biomarker platform will be used in a trial at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Frontotemporal Disorders (FTD) Unit, which specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of dementia and related disorders.

The pilot study will enrol fifty subjects aged 50 and above who will represent a spectrum of cognitive function, from normal function through the start of decline to mild dementia. The project is part of a $1.7 million grant to explore the use of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies for in-home care.

Sonde Health’s vocal biomarker system uses audio signal processing and machine learning to identify changes in the human voice from a short sample, using a digital recording device like a smartphone, and interpreting them using artificial intelligence.

Cognitive impairment is a compelling test for the technology, as language requires a high level of cognitive processing through the coordination of working memory and semantic memory, as well as attention, and decline in language skills is a characteristic of early-stage Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The hope is that vocal biomarkers could be used to monitor the progression of people whose age puts them at risk of cognitive decline, to allow intervention at the earliest possible stage.

“Nearly 90% of older adults wish to stay in their homes for as long as possible [and] digital technologies, and digital biomarkers in particular, have great potential to support this shift,” said David Liu, Sonde Health’s chief executive.

“By monitoring cognitive health from afar through vocal biomarkers, Sonde’s technology could help facilitate this desire to ‘age in place’, offering these patients the ability to remain in a familiar environment without sacrificing quality care,” he added.

Boston, Massachusetts-based Sonde Health – a PureTech Health company – has previously used its vocal biomarkers to detect respiratory disease, as well as mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

It already markets consumer-oriented apps to monitor respiratory and mental health, and is now working on novel vocal biomarkers using a proprietary “research-build-validation” methodology in partnership with clinical groups.

Along with cognitive impairment, it is also working on other conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as biomarkers for general health.