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Transcripts from Ronald Reagan's press conferences could aid Alzheimer's research

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Findings could help create early-warning system for the disease

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Scientists studying the speech patterns of Ronald Reagan have detected subtle variations in how the former president spoke linked to the early onset of Alzheimer's disease, according to a report by The New York Times. The new analysis, say the researchers, could help scientists develop early-warning systems for Alzheimer's and other neurological conditions, but isn't proof that Reagan's time in office was adversely affected by the disorder. The relevant markers in his speech, however, are detectable years before Reagan was officially diagnosed with the condition in 1994.

reagan's transcripts were compared with those of George h.w. bush

The study, published in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, compares 46 unscripted news conferences given by Reagan with 101 sessions held by George H. W. Bush during his own time in office. The two presidents were chosen as the subject of the study not in order to derive new historical insight, but simply because the pair offered a wealth of source material in the form of transcripts spanning many years.

Dr. Eric Reiman, an Alzheimer's specialist not connected with the study, told The New York Times that the work was "highly innovative," and could "further clarify the extent to which spoken-word changes are associated with normal aging or predictive of subsequent progression to the clinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease."

Determining early indicators of Alzheimer’s is considered a priority among experts. It's thought by many that future, as-yet-undeveloped treatments of the disease may depend on early intervention — targeting the brain before irreversible damage has been caused. Dr Visar Berisha, one of the lead authors of the new study, told The New York Times that in the future, natural language processing and algorithms could be used to detect these subtle changes in speech.