Tracking discourse complexity preceding Alzheimer's disease diagnosis: a case study comparing the press conferences of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush

J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;45(3):959-63. doi: 10.3233/JAD-142763.


Changes in some lexical features of language have been associated with the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease. Here we describe a method to extract key features from discourse transcripts, which we evaluated on non-scripted news conferences from President Ronald Reagan, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, and President George Herbert Walker Bush, who has no known diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Key word counts previously associated with cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease were extracted and regression analyses were conducted. President Reagan showed a significant reduction in the number of unique words over time and a significant increase in conversational fillers and non-specific nouns over time. There was no significant trend in these features for President Bush.

Keywords: Early diagnosis; language; medical informatics; natural language processing.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Alzheimer Disease / history
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Disease Progression
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Leadership*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests