Speech movement and dementia risk

Exploring speech movement patterns to screen for risk of dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease

Degree type

PhD

Closing date

18 July 2022

Campus

Hobart

Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International

About the research project

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) accounts for 70% of dementia cases. There are three stages of AD: preclinical AD (pre-AD), Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and dementia. Pre-AD describes a phase where AD pathology progresses, for about 10-15 years, before cognitive signs of dementia appear. There is therefore an urgent, unmet need for low cost, accessible population-level tests to detect AD pathology across this continuum, with a particular focus on pre-AD. Cognitive tests lack sensitivity until the MCI stage. Specialist biomarkers (cerebrospinal fluid and blood tests, brain scans) can detect pre-AD changes, but they are expensive, invasive, and not suitable for population-level screening. Substantial research has documented gait changes in pre-AD, and recently that changes in the speed and variability of repetitive hand movements appear sensitive to pre-AD pathology. Complementing this, changes in the speed, rhythm, and accuracy of lip, tongue, and palatal movements, in isolation and combination (syllabic diadochokinesis [DDK]) may be a biomarker of cognitive decline, with age-related changes in sensory, motor and language systems impairing cognitive processing and task performance. DDK has been used for some time in diagnosing and monitoring functional decline in progressive neurological disorders, such as dementia; however, DDK has never been investigated in pre-AD, nor assessed precisely using computer analysis. Typically, DDK tasks are audio-recorded, then played back for manual and subjective analysis of rate, rhythm, and accuracy. In this project, the student will work with a multidisciplinary team (speech pathologist, neurologist, computer scientist, physiotherapist, general practitioner) to (1) develop an online version of the clinical DDK test, (2) combine DDK analysis with already-developed online analysis of repetitive hand movements, and (3) analyse the performance of adults who do and do not have cognitive difficulties to determine which combinations of hand-speech movement data most accurately detect preclinical AD to provide a more sensitive and inclusive means for detecting early AD pathology.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Lyn Goldberg

Funding

Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,854 per annum (2022 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.

Eligibility

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, A/Prof Lyn Goldberg to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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