Journal Article

Making sense of progressive non-fluent aphasia: an analysis of conversational speech

Jonathan A. Knibb, Anna M. Woollams, John R. Hodges and Karalyn Patterson

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 132, issue 10, pages 2734-2746
Published in print October 2009 | ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online August 2009 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awp207
Making sense of progressive non-fluent aphasia: an analysis of conversational speech

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The speech of patients with progressive non-fluent aphasia (PNFA) has often been described clinically, but these descriptions lack support from quantitative data. The clinical classification of the progressive aphasic syndromes is also debated. This study selected 15 patients with progressive aphasia on broad criteria, excluding only those with clear semantic dementia. It aimed to provide a detailed quantitative description of their conversational speech, along with cognitive testing and visual rating of structural brain imaging, and to examine which, if any features were consistently present throughout the group; as well as looking for sub-syndromic associations between these features. A consistent increase in grammatical and speech sound errors and a simplification of spoken syntax relative to age-matched controls were observed, though telegraphic speech was rare; slow speech was common but not universal. Almost all patients showed impairments in picture naming, syntactic comprehension and executive function. The degree to which speech was affected was independent of the severity of the other cognitive deficits. A partial dissociation was also observed between slow speech with simplified grammar on the one hand, and grammatical and speech sound errors on the other. Overlap between these sets of impairments was however, the rule rather than the exception, producing continuous variation within a single consistent syndrome. The distribution of atrophy was remarkably variable, with frontal, temporal and medial temporal areas affected, either symmetrically or asymmetrically. The study suggests that PNFA is a coherent, well-defined syndrome and that varieties such as logopaenic progressive aphasia and progressive apraxia of speech may be seen as points in a space of continuous variation within progressive non-fluent aphasia.

Keywords: progressive aphasia; frontotemporal dementia; language; cortical atrophy; neuropsychology

Journal Article.  8762 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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