This article was written by Rana Bawa, President of Health and Wellness at Ogilvy India and first published on ET BrandEquity.
Circa 2012: I just got off my weekly call with my mother. As usual, she was excited about talking to me, but of late her conversations are getting slow and repetitive. I said “Ma, you told me the same thing last time we spoke.” In 2016, she was detected with Alzheimer’s.
Today a lot of people would ask, “It took you four years to figure that out?” Yes. I was talking to my mother and not looking for symptoms.
I wish I knew it earlier – maybe I could have done something (if detected and treated early, it is possible to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s).
Recently I came across an article on Biomarkers by Guy Fagherazzi et al and got to know that early detection of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is possible through a new biomarker – Voice. (For the uninitiated, biomarkers are measurable indicators of a medical condition. Blood and other bodily fluids have been the earliest source of biomarkers)
It is scientifically proven that there are subtle changes in voice much before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s become prominent/pronounced. Verbal fluency, hesitating slow speech, word finding difficulties, using filler sounds (umm, aah) – all set in slowly in Alzheimer’s and none of us are tuned or trained to see this as a symptom of a problem.
Though these subtle changes are not easily detected by us non-medical human beings, Al and related technology has the ability to detect them.
When we marketing people think “Voice”, we are thinking technology bridging the human – digital interaction, sensors for search, virtual assistants, robotics etc… Healthcare is thinking voice analysis to diagnose health conditions.
Today, apart from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, voice analysis using AI can also be used for detection of emotional stress in people.
Using Voice sampling, data collection and analytics, audio processing and feature extraction, developing and training algorithms, Al is helping develop voice technology for improving healthcare diagnostics and treatment.
With mental health becoming an issue of epidemic proportions – it is estimated that by 2030 the highest global disease burden will come from depression – technology such as these will go a long way in helping ameliorate this situation.
There are a lot of technology leaders and startups who are engaged in developing voice-based solutions. One interesting technology startup – Ellipsis – has developed a voice-based technology that will help doctors diagnose severity of anxiety and depression better with high quality clinical grade assessment. And an extension of the same can diagnose sub clinical depression too – the depression which most of us suffer from and do not recognize or accept it. Remember Deepika Padukone talking about her depression?
Our voice gives away a lot of information, talk long and fast when stressed and speak lower, flatter, and softer when depressed. And, while these technology players play their role in leveraging this new biomarker to develop solutions for improving health outcomes, isn’t it time for brands in the digital and telecommunication space – which are enabling and transmitting billions of voices – to come forward and be a part of this. Alone or in partnership with pharma or other healthcare players. Maybe it is payback to society or a marketing and revenue opportunity.
While I cannot turn back the clock, for you, I hope that when you speak to your mother, father or any other loved one, you only hear joy in their voices. However, if there is a health issue lurking around the corner, you know it early enough because you can see their voice change.
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