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July 26, 2021

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*-- AI-based speech pattern analysis may allow Alzheimer's diagnosis by phone --*

Patterns of speech in a phone conservation can be used to correctly identify adults in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, a study published Wednesday by the journal PLOS found.

Using more than 1,600 voice recordings of phone conversations made from 24 people with confirmed Alzheimer's and 99 healthy controls, researchers correctly identified those with the common form of dementia with roughly 90% accuracy, the data showed.

The approach relies on the tendency of people with Alzheimer's "to speak more slowly and with longer pauses and to spend more time finding the correct word," the researchers said.

These "vocal features" result in "broken messages and lack of speech fluency," which can be analyzed using an artificial intelligence-based program.

The computer program was able to identify those with early Alzheimer's with essentially the same level of accuracy as a telephone-based test for cognitive function, according to the researchers.

"There is growing consensus that the presence of language deficits could be a part of clinical manifestation of Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment," researchers from several universities in Japan wrote in the study.

"[The] assessment of language production might be able to represent a unique opportunity for early detection of Alzheimer's disease," they said.

More than 6 million adults age 65 and older in the United States have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, the Alzheimer's Association estimates.

The condition causes memory loss and declines in cognitive function, including the ability to perform activities of daily living, according to the association.

Alzheimer's can be challenging for physicians to detect at an early stage because those afflicted and their family members may not recognize the warning signs or be reluctant to share them, the association said.

However, changes in speech patterns experienced by people in the early stages of the disease are increasingly being seen as a possible way identify it earlier and initiate treatment before it progresses, research indicates.

While no cure for Alzheimer's is available, medications can help slow its progression in some people, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

For this study, voice recordings were analyzed using an artificial intelligence-based computer software program designed to identify speech patterns typical of those in the early stages of the disease.

The accuracy of the program at identifying participants with early Alzheimer's was compared with that of the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status, a widely used test in which subjects are asked questions and evaluated based on their responses and response times.

Both approaches successfully identified recordings of participants with Alzheimer's with 86% to 89% accuracy, the data showed.

"The findings of our study can create the opportunity for building new tools to identify Alzheimer's disease risk by using only vocal features obtained from daily conversations via telephone," the researchers wrote.

The approach could enable "early detection and diagnosis of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the sense that the tool can be used not only by healthcare professionals ... but also the general population at home," they wrote.

*-- Lockheed Martin opens new spacecraft facility in Florida --*

Work From HomeLockheed Martin opened a new spacecraft facility Thursday to help build NASA's Orion lunar capsules near Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Lockheed Martin says the new STAR Center in Titusville is now a "digitally transformed factory of the future" that will help produce spacecraft to take astronauts to the moon. STAR stands for Spacecraft Test, Assembly and Resource.

"This represents the next level of commitment for NASA's and Lockheed Martin's exploration missions," said Paul Marshall, NASA assistant Orion program manager. "Our work here is just getting started, and in August, this place will be humming with activity."

NASA awarded Lockheed a $4.6 billion contract in 2019 to build six new Orion capsules. At 55,000 square feet, the spacecraft center will build large components for Orion, which still will be assembled on NASA property about 10 miles away.

"Large elements such as the heat shield and wiring harness will be built at the STAR Center and then transported for final integration," according to the company, which is based in Maryland.

Having the additional high-tech capability nearby will free up space at NASA's historic 600,000-square-foot Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building, built in 1964 for the Gemini and Apollo programs and renovated for $55 million in 2009.

The new building will allow a faster schedule for Orion construction than would otherwise have been possible, the company said.

"It's not just the building, but the flight that we are preparing for soon with Artemis I, which is so exciting," said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. "We want to explore and we want to get Orion out there and the Artemis program."

The new facility will start building components for the Artemis III mission that is intended to return American astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2024, although that date is in question due to weak congressional funding.

Lockheed Martin spent 18 months and $20 million renovating the center, which formerly housed the Astronaut Training Experience tourist attraction.

Orion is designed for 21-day crewed journeys, but it can be fitted for longer missions to the moon or even Mars, according to Lockheed.

A test model of the Orion capsule has been to space, without astronauts aboard. It was launched in December 2014 and splashed down about 4 1/2 hours later in the Pacific Ocean.

The capsule includes deep space navigation and communication systems, advanced life support, radiation shielding and a heat shield designed to withstand 5,200 degrees F coming back from the moon at 24,700 mph.

Many people at the opening event Thursday said they remembered the building when it was a tourist attraction and hosted space camp programs.

"As a kid I remember running up and down this road, trying to find the best place to watch Apollo launches," state Rep. Thad Altman, R-Fla., said.