Even if you don’t follow the NFL, you’ve probably seen one piece of troubling football news: head trauma. The issue is so prevalent that it prompted a study, led by Boston University neurologist Ann McKee, in which researchers conducted post-mortem exams of 202 ex-football players’ brains. The findings were shocking, if not surprising; among football players in general, 87% of the brains showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition that’s believed to be caused by successive concussions due to repeated blows to the head. Among NFL players, the study found a staggering 99% occurrence of CTE.
Detecting concussions on the field, in the moment, isn’t so simple, as concussions have a wide range of symptoms and brain trauma often comes with no visible signs of injury. But speech may hold the key to uncovering concussions in real time. And that’s the driving premise behind the partnership between Aural Analytics, a speech neuroscience company, and HitCheck, makers of a namesake app designed to assess and monitor players’ brain performance. Previously, the HitCheck app did cognitive evaluations using game-like tests that didn’t take speech into account. Now Aural Analytics’ speech assessments are embedded into the app, giving coaches and medical personal a significantly upgraded real-time evaluation tool.
So how does the tool work? At the start of each season, players can do baseline assessments with the HitCheck app, which measures brain-related factors, including memory, coordination, and reaction time. And now incorporates a speech sample, which gets uploaded to the Aural Analytics’ cloud for analysis of vocal biomarkers. The AI platform looks for neurological glitches in what is said — including syntax and vocabulary — and how it is said — pronunciation, rhythm, rate, and more. In real time, players can provide speech samples in under two minutes, and the app can compare the current speech sample to the baseline one to check for differences.
Aural Analytics CEO Judy Smythe says, “There is a distinct link between brain injury and changes in speech and language that can be quickly and easily measured using Aural Analytics speech vitals technology. Human speech relies on the coordination of complex neural activity, including cognitive and motor functions. A concussion or brain injury can cause damage to the underlying system, which becomes apparent in one’s speech.” HitCheck CEO Mike Piha adds, “This clinical-grade speech analytics ensures we are offering the most comprehensive diagnostic tool in the commercial market to ensure athlete safety both on and off the field.”