SHU professor collaborates to research on stroke-victim speech disorders

Sona Patel

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Seton Hall University professor Sona Patel of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology within the School of Health and Medical Sciences is collaborating with Argye Hillis and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University on a $3.2 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to study the cognitive processes damaged during stroke and the natural course of recovery over a year.

Hillis is executive vice chair of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins and a renowned specialist in stroke treatment. Together with Patel’s expertise in speech analytics, they are investigating the neural and cognitive processes involved in producing emotions in speech and how these processes are can be damaged during stroke.

One of their most recent publications, “Right Hemisphere Regions Critical for Expression of Emotion Through Prosody,” was published in Frontiers in Neurology, one of the largest and most-cited open-access journals in neurology.

In the article, Patel and her colleagues look at diminished emotional prosody in right-hemisphere stroke victims. It has been said that prosody “comprises all of the variables of timing, phrasing, emphasis and intonation that speakers use to help convey aspects of meaning and to make their speech lively.”

The speech of someone who has suffered from a stroke and is suffering from diminished emotional or “affective” prosody can sound monotone, mono-speed and essentially without emphasis or variation.

Tied to emotion, it is these fluctuations in speech that help to convey meaning, and victims of stroke — along with other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, frontotemporal dementia and schizophrenia — can have difficulty modulating their speech to express emotion. Likewise, the recognition of a conversational partner’s emotions can also become affected and stroke victims can lose the ability to register or comprehend the variations in others’ speech.

Whether speaking or understanding, diminished affective prosody can have a major impact on the quality of life for stroke victims in recovery.

“Up till now, research on stroke outcomes has focused almost exclusively on recovery of very basic functions, such as feeding oneself, bathing, walking and the utterance of speech,” Patel said. “These functions are vitally important. But impairments in social function, including impaired recognition and expression of emotions, are also common consequences of stroke — and the inability to understand and convey emotion through speech is a gateway to isolation and often despair. We are hopeful that this research funded by NIH/NIDCD can be another step in formulating effective and efficient interventions that will improve quality of life and facilitate full participation.”