In Italy about six hundred thousand people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. One of the obstacles for the treatment of this disease is the fact that this disease does not have clear and distinct symptoms at its onset. When you have memory lapses, usually dementia is already established and you can not help but try to delay the progression. For years, even decades, symptoms can be minimal. Yet, there are several signs to be grasped that, if put together, must at least lead to further investigation. One of these is the alteration of language which, in an adult or elderly person who has never suffered before, could lead to suspicion of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The hypothesis is confirmed by the outcome of a research carried out by a group of scientists from the University of Bologna and the Arcispedale Santa Maria Nuova in Reggio Emilia, published in the journal “Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience”. We talked about the topic with Dr. Lara Fratticci, neurologist at Humanitas.
The link between language and cognitive decline
During an experiment, conducted on 96 subjects, each participant was asked to describe in words first the details of a picture, then their typical working day and finally the last dream they remembered. Once collected, the answers were analysed using specific natural language processing techniques: capable of examining the rhythm and sound of words, the use of vocabulary and syntax and other details of language production. The lengthening of pauses, the reduced frequency with which words are emitted and an infrequent discursive style seemed to be sensitive indicators of a condition of slight cognitive decline.
Ten signals you should not underestimate
The impoverishment of language, the acoustic deficit, the lack of information and a high rate of syntactic and grammatical errors are among the indicators not to be overlooked. Being able to detect these small signals could also become essential to effectively deal with other often curable diseases. Alzheimer’s causes a slow decline in cognitive abilities and there is currently no possibility of predicting the development or otherwise of the disease. Yet experts indicate at least ten possible alarm bells: the appearance of amnesias, the impossibility of carrying out simple tasks, speech disorders, difficulty in reasoning, disorientation in time and space (questions about the day of the week or the place where you are or have been, can become difficult), irritability and delirium, anxiety and depression, apathy and abuse.