A Parkinson’s diagnosis may soon be a phone call away

What if you could call a phone number and find out if you have a — so far — incurable illness?

Mathematician Max Little is collecting thousands of voice recordings as part of research into the possibility that merely listening to a voice can determine the point that is the difference between health and disease.

He says subtle changes to the voice, including tremor, breathiness and weakness are detected by specialized algorithms.

His Parkinson’s Voice Initiative records a large sample of voices. Anyone who is healthy or with Parkinson’s can call in and leave a recording that will be used in the research.

He first described it a few weeks ago on NPR:


Last month, Little and his team asked people all over the world to call up their phone banks and record their voices. The caller follows a series of prompts — asking them to say “ahh” for as long as they can and say a few sentences.

“We expected to it to run for six months and collect 10,000 voice recordings over that period,” Little says. “In just under a month, we got 5,000 voice recordings.”

The algorithm listens for three main clusters of symptoms in the voice: vocal fold tremors, breathiness and weakness, and the way the jaw, tongue and lips fluctuate during speech.

Little hopes the algorithm will improve enough so that eventually a person could get a diagnosis and track their illness through the phone.

The TED video was released today.

If you’re in the U.S., the phone number is 1-857-284-8035.

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