Signals in the voice may give clues to one’s state of healthBy Veita Bland, M.D. / December 23, 2022
How many times have you spoken to a friend and just by the way their voice sounded, you immediately knew they were not feeling well. How often have you heard your child’s voice and instantly knew that your child was in distress?
We all hear signals in the voices of others that may give us a clue to their state of health and even mental health. Are we on the cusp of using the voice as a vital sign such as blood pressure, temperature and pulse? Well, the answer is yes.
Most of us recognize that the voice has distinctive changes. The two most recognized are at the time of puberty when the voice box or larynx migrates downward and as one ages when there are structural changes in the throat area that weaken the voice. Those researchers inform us that there are numerous vibrations in the voice, many of which we as humans cannot hear. With the aid of artificial intelligence, these vibrations can be analyzed, and information gleaned as to how a person may be doing.
One of the most successful studies utilizing AI is called ChatterBaby, which analyzes the cries of infants. It is very accurate in picking up infants in pain because the cry is more energetic and louder as the pain increases muscle tension. Researchers have also noted that infants with autism have a different cry as early as six months. The hope is to identify these infants at an earlier state when early interventions are more helpful. Such interventions may identify sleep problems and seizures earlier in this group of children.
Researchers have also noted that people with respiratory problems have changes in their voices. There are differences in the voice of a person with emphysema when compared to a person with COPD. A computer could analyze their voice at the beginning of each day and pick up signals that they are not doing as well and suggest they may want to call their healthcare provider to make an appointment, thereby preventing a possible emergency.
Researchers know there are differences in the voices of Parkinson patients and in Alzheimer’s patients well before a formal diagnosis is made. In Alzheimer’s patients, researchers noted a change in the content of the speech. There were more “umms” and more pronouns used over nouns. In Parkinson’s patients, a change in the voice occurs decades before a formal diagnosis is made. The usage of artificial intelligence can pick this up in the early stages, again giving the possibility of intervening early to affect the outcome.
Researchers propose also using the voice as a way of accessing the moods of people. We know the voice of someone who is manic is different from someone who is not. It is hoped that one day artificial intelligence will be able to detect if someone is depressed or suicidal and thus intervene and prevent a tragedy just by having them speak on a phone.
Currently, voice samples are being collected to build a database that will make the aforementioned applications common place. So, when you visit your healthcare provider in the future, a voice recording may be obtained along with your blood pressure, temperature and pulse, which may provide more information about your state of health. WOW.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m.