2 July 2024

Sheffield researchers win global Made with Patients award for dementia tool collaboration with hard-to-reach communities


A novel digital system developed by the University of Sheffield and partner organisations which uses AI and speech and language analysis to detect memory problems at an earlier stage, aiding detection of early signs of dementia, has won a global Made with Patients award from the Patient Engagement Open Forum.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, Devices for Dignity - the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) HealthTech Research Centre in Long term Conditions, the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, industry partner Therapy Box and the Sheffield Israac Somali Community Centre were awarded the Made with Patients Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity award.

The award was given in recognition of their collaborative work with ethnic minority groups to ensure accuracy of the CognoSpeak system in detecting early signs of cognitive decline in people who do not have English as their first language.

Speech and language analysis to aid dementia detection

CognoSpeak is a groundbreaking digital assessment tool which uses a virtual assistant on a screen to engage patients in a conversation. It asks memory-probing questions inspired by those used in outpatient consultations and conducts cognitive tests, such as picture descriptions and verbal fluency tests.

To ensure accuracy and combat any bias in analysis of speech patterns, the team of researchers worked with the Sheffield Israac Somali Community Centre, training research champions within the community, hosting workshops and meetings and recruiting 50 Somali participants to speak with CognoSpeak.

The CognoSpeak project team are now also working in partnership with Chinese and South Asian communities, recruiting 50 participants from each of these groups in order to train the AI which the system uses and also to give feedback on acceptability and usability.

As well as achieving the goals for this project, the partnership approach has had wider impact, facilitating meaningful conversations about health experience and health beliefs from within each of these communities.

Working with ethnic minority communities to develop CognoSpeak

The Made with Patients award, hosted by Patient Focused Medicines Development, is the first global accolade exclusively celebrating innovators in patient engagement.

Lise Sproson, Patient and Public Involvement Lead at NIHR Devices for Dignity HealthTech Research Centre, said: “We are immensely honoured to have won this ‘Made with Patients’ global award. Dementia affects people of all cultures and backgrounds, and by creating a meaningful relationship with the local community we were able to ensure CognoSpeak is acceptable, accessible and as accurate as possible for those speaking languages other than English as a first language.”

Dr Dan Blackburn, Academic Neurologist at the University of Sheffield department of Neuroscience and the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, said: “It is a real honour to win this award. By looking for patterns in conversation we can detect early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease without the need for patients to attend in-person appointments. CognoSpeak could be a real game-changer in the way GPs and other primary care workers distinguish between those likely to be suffering with dementia and so best referred to a specialist memory clinic, and those whose memory problems are due to other factors.”

Professor Heidi Christensen, Professor of Spoken Language Technology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Building relationships with local communities who have English as an additional language was really important in ensuring CognoSpeak works for all communities. Through our collaboration with the Sheffield Israac Somali Community Centre, we were able to develop a choice of digital agents to talk to.”

Muse Jama, a CognoSpeak Community Research Associate, said: “This award highlights the hard work and dedication of the entire CognoSpeak team. We are grateful to all our team members, partners, and supporters who contributed to the success of this project. This award inspires us to continue striving for innovation and excellence."

The CognoSpeak project, which is being sponsored by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has recruited more than 1,100 participants from across the UK to help develop the system further.

The team are working with South Asian community groups in Sheffield and Bradford and the Sheffield Chinese community to further engage with community groups. To take part in the trial, visit www.cognospeak.com



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