Using Speech Technology to Understand Brain Injuries

Concussions are a hot topic, given recent discussions about football and the consequences of repeated head injuries for athletes. The problem extends well beyond professional-level sports to college and even high school sports that involve serious physical contact. Of course non-athletes also sustain head injuries, such as from falling down or other accidents. The Centers for Disease Control says there are 10,000 diagnosed concussions per day in the U.S. Likely many more go undiagnosed.

While it’s becoming more common for school athletics programs to perform baseline tests that measure a student athlete’s normal brain function, results reports get filed away and aren’t available for comparison at a moment of injury. That critical time is when a coach or athletic trainer’s decision gets made to return a player to the field or have them sit it out; proper concussion diagnosis in that moment can mean the difference between playing per usual, exacerbating an injury, risking permanent brain damage or even death. It’s also when speech technology can make a difference.

AppTek's partner Mindsquare has developed a simple-to-use, speech-enabled concussion assessment app that can be downloaded right to a mobile phone and used anywhere. Mindsquare’s elite team includes (among others) a neurologist from Georgetown University and an expert advisor on sports-related brain injuries – Brig Owens, former Washington Redskins quarterback and former assistant executive director of the National Football League Players Association.

Mindsquare combined AppTek’s robust technology with a concussion assessment protocol validated by top neurologists and neurosurgeons in the field. Using AppTek’s automatic speech recognition engine which incorporates natural language processing, the Mindsquare app tests a player’s speech patterns, speed and tone following a hit, by instantly processing audio input against AppTek’s vast speech database. It uses AppTek’s computer vision capabilities to track eye movements and balance, two other indicators of concussion. It also tests a player’s memory recall to round out the assessment protocol. Using machine learning and deep neural networks, the AppTek platform continuously improves, thereby providing a comprehensive solution.

The app then produces a digital scorecard that can be viewed on the spot and sent immediately to a doctor if further medical diagnosis is warranted. Because players are encouraged to take a baseline assessment prior to sustaining an injury, their doctors can readily have test results before and after a possible concussion for comparison. In the case of a concussed individual, the app can – and should – be used to monitor the individual’s status over time so that changes can be quickly noticed and treated if necessary. The convenience and privacy of a mobile app can also help overcome potential resistance to assessment by athletes who don’t want to appear unable to continue playing.

Beyond sports, the medical community knows that speech plays a major role in other neurological issues. That includes degenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Mindsquare’s technology holds great promise for helping to diagnose these and other challenging illnesses.

The mobile application has been used to assess over 400 former NFL players and many high school and college-level athletes. Mindsquare is even being used as part of the neurological examination in the NFL’s $1B concussion legal settlement.

The breakthrough app was showcased at this week’s SpeechTek 2019 Conference via a presentation by Mindsquare’s CEO Darius Ferdows. There is a huge need for proper concussion testing of athletes and others of all ages. Mindsquare and AppTek are helping to advance this timely and relevant conversation.


Download the Mindsquare app here

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