Predicting schizophrenia: Is it all in how someone talks?

Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder that can make a person hear or see things that aren’t real and have considerable difficulty in thinking and/or speaking clearly. Because this condition can affect sufferers so severely, it is one of the many mental disorders that are often considered to be disabling by the Social Security Administration.

In many cases, people aren’t diagnosed with schizophrenia until they are adults when symptoms become easier to identify. By this time, many people may be married, working through college or pursuing a career which can make the worsening symptoms and diagnosis quite disruptive. However, recent research suggests that a computer may be able to predict risk for schizophrenia in young people with such accuracy that it could potentially help delay symptoms or make them less severe.

Researchers used a computer program that analyzed the speaking patterns and structures of young people during a 45-minute interview. By measuring the number of disruptions in a person’s speech and examining language and sentence coherence, the computer was able to identify with 100 percent accuracy which participants were at-risk for developing psychosis and which were not.

Researchers admit the study has its limitations. There were only 34 people involved in the testing and at this point, they can only predict an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. More research is needed, they say, to get the next step of determining who will actually develop the disorder.

Researchers believe that diagnosing schizophrenia as early as possible could dramatically impact how the illness is treated. Early intervention could lead to more effective and targeted treatment measures and give people more time to prepare for future difficulties.

Of course, all this research is very preliminary. Hopefully, developments will continue to made so that this serious disorder can be better understood in an effort to extend the amount of time a person can be healthy and independent.

Source: The Atlantic, “Computers Can Predict Schizophrenia Based on How a Person Talks,” Adrienne LaFrance, Aug. 26, 2015