Purpose: Although it is frequently presumed that bulbar muscle degeneration in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is associated with progressive loss of speech motor control, empirical evidence is limited. Furthermore, because speaking rate slows with disease progression and rate manipulations are used to improve intelligibility in ALS, this study sought to (i) determine between and within-group differences in articulatory motor control as a result of speaking rate changes and (ii) identify the strength of association between articulatory motor control and speech impairment severity.
Method: Ten talkers with ALS and 11 healthy controls repeated the target sentence at habitual, fast, and slow rates. The spatiotemporal variability index (STI) was calculated to determine tongue, lower lip, and jaw movement variability.
Results: During habitual speech, talkers with mild-moderate dysarthria displayed significantly lower tongue and lip movement variability whereas those with severe dysarthria showed greater variability compared to controls. Within-group rate effects were significant only for talkers with ALS. Specifically, lip and tongue movement variability significantly increased during slow speech relative to habitual and fast speech. Finally, preliminary associations between speech impairment severity and movement variability were moderate to strong in talkers with ALS.
Conclusion: Between-group differences for habitual speech and within-group effects for slow speech replicated previous findings for lower lip and jaw movements. Preliminary findings of moderate to strong associations between speech impairment severity and STI suggest that articulatory variability may vary from pathologically low (possibly indicating articulatory compensation) to pathologically high variability (possibly indicating loss of control) with dysarthria progression in ALS.
Keywords: ALS; Dysarthria; Movement variability; Speaking rate; Speech motor control.
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