Your voice can help predict disease, mental health issues

FAYETTE COUNTY, Ga. — Your voice could help diagnose everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease to depression.

The technology is already in use in Georgia. An Atlanta start-up TQIntelligence created an app that uses voice samples and artificial intelligence to help diagnose mental health issues in children.

There also is a big project underway to help doctors diagnose and treat several common diseases.

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“I was terrified,” said Roger Cochran about his Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis three years ago. “I had this vision of what it meant to have Alzheimer’s which was to be completely incompetent.”

His wife Dorothy Merrick started noticing small changes.

“I saw the memory loss in his social behavior of not wanting to come with me maybe to some social functions,” said Merrick.

The Fayette County couple is taking on his diagnosis together. Merrick writes out each day’s agenda on a whiteboard near their back door to help Cochran remember what he’s supposed to do.

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Dr. Yael Bensoussan at the University of South Florida in Tampa is looking into Alzheimer’s and other diseases as co-leader of Voice as a Biomarker for Health. It’s part of a four-year National Institutes of Health project.

The goal is “…to develop a very large-scale database of human voices linked to other biomarkers of health,” said Dr. Bensoussan.

She and researchers at 11 other universities and hospitals will use an app to collect voice samples. The samples will go through artificial intelligence analysis to identify signs of disease like slow speech.

They will be used to diagnose and treat five categories: voice, neurological, respiratory, psychiatric and children’s speech disorders.

“Looking at specifically autism and speech delay,” Bensoussan said.

She said bioethicists are involved to protect patient privacy.

“They need to know that their health information is not flowing everywhere around the word,” Bensoussan said.

She envisions this as a tool that will lead to earlier diagnoses.

“I think that’s fantastic. I think that the more we learn about a disease… the better it can be,” Merrick said.


Voice and AI also are used in an app to help children with mental health issues created by Atlanta-based start-up TQIntelligence. Therapists collect information like a child’s diagnosis and background along with voice samples to identify kids in crisis and treat them.

“We focus on three of the negative emotions: anger, right? Fear and sadness,” said Yared Alemu, Ph.D. the Founder and CEO of TQIntelligence.

He hopes the app will help these children become healthy and productive.

“You can change the trajectory from maladaptive behavior, school dropout… you can have a productive member of society,” said Alemu.

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Right now, a local home-based counseling agency is using the app as well as schools outside of Georgia.

“So, we’re currently working in 60 schools. That number is going to continue to grow,” said Mark Feinberg, TQIntelligence’s Chief Operating Officer.

Daijah is a nurse who works part-time at Chris 180 a behavioral health agency. She got counseling for trauma and general anxiety through Chris 180.

Although Daijah did not use this app, she thinks it can make a big difference. “It’s hard to communicate feelings. And if you can just gather data based off of like, the sound of my voice and how I’m saying things that’s great,” said Daijah.

TQIntelligence’s CEO said his app is 80% accurate. It’s also used to monitor if patients are making progress in their treatment.

The company has some big-time investors. Google, Blue Cross and the National Science Foundation have invested about $1.5 million dollars to develop this technology.

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