Harnessing Speech-Derived Digital Biomarkers to Detect and Quantify Cognitive Decline Severity in Older Adults

Gozde Cay, Valeria A. Pfeifer, Myeounggon Lee, Mohammad Dehghan Rouzi, Adonay S. Nunes, Nesreen El-Refaei, Anmol Salim Momin, Md Moin Uddin Atique, Matthias R. Mehl, Ashkan Vaziri, Bijan Najafi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Current cognitive assessments suffer from floor/ceiling and practice effects, poor psychometric performance in mild cases, and repeated assessment effects. This study explores the use of digital speech analysis as an alternative tool for determining cognitive impairment. The study specifically focuses on identifying the digital speech biomarkers associated with cognitive impairment and its severity. Methods: We recruited older adults with varying cognitive health. Their speech data, recorded via a wearable microphone during the reading aloud of a standard passage, were processed to derive digital biomarkers such as timing, pitch, and loudness. Cohen's d effect size highlighted group differences, and correlations were drawn to the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). A stepwise approach using a Random Forest model was implemented to distinguish cognitive states using speech data and predict MoCA scores based on highly correlated features. Results: The study comprised 59 participants, with 36 demonstrating cognitive impairment and 23 serving as cognitively intact controls. Among all assessed parameters, similarity, as determined by Dynamic Time Warping (DTW), exhibited the most substantial positive correlation (rho = 0.529, p < 0.001), while timing parameters, specifically the ratio of extra words, revealed the strongest negative correlation (rho = -0.441, p < 0.001) with MoCA scores. Optimal discriminative performance was achieved with a combination of four speech parameters: total pause time, speech-to-pause ratio, similarity via DTW, and intelligibility via DTW. Precision and balanced accuracy scores were found to be 88.1 ± 1.2% and 76.3 ± 1.3%, respectively. Discussion: Our research proposes that reading-derived speech data facilitates the differentiation between cognitively impaired individuals and cognitively intact, age-matched older adults. Specifically, parameters based on timing and similarity within speech data provide an effective gauge of cognitive impairment severity. These results suggest speech analysis as a viable digital biomarker for early detection and monitoring of cognitive impairment, offering novel approaches in dementia care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive decline
  • Dementia
  • Digital health
  • Machine learning
  • Speech
  • Wearables

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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