Prominence marking in Parkinsonian speech and its correlation with motor performance and cognitive abilities

Thies, Tabea and Mücke, Doris and Lowit, Anja and Kalbe, Elke and Steffen, Julia and Barbe, Michael T. (2020) Prominence marking in Parkinsonian speech and its correlation with motor performance and cognitive abilities. Neuropsychologia, 137. pp. 1-16. 107306. ISSN 0028-3932

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    Abstract

    Objectives: Research suggests that people with Parkinson's disease (PwPD) do not only suffer from motor but also non-motor impairment. This interdisciplinary study investigated how prominence marking is influenced by problems on the motoric and cognitive level. Materials and methods: We collected speech production data from 38 native German speakers: 19 PwPD (under medication) with a mild to moderate motor impairment, 13 males and 6 females (mean 66.2 years old, SD = 7.7), and 19 healthy age- and gender-matched control participants (mean 65.4 years old, SD = 9.3). Target words were produced in an accented and unaccented condition within a speech production task. The data were analyzed for intensity, syllable duration, F0 and vowel production. Furthermore, we assessed motor impairment and cognitive functions, i.e. working memory, task-switching, attention control and speed of information processing. Results: Both groups were able to mark prominence by increasing pitch, syllable duration and intensity and by adjusting their vowel production. Comparisons between PwPD and control participants revealed that the vowel space was smaller in PwPD even in mildly impaired speakers. Further, task-switching as an executive function, which was tested with the trail making test, was correlated with modulation of F0 and intensity in PwPD: the worse the task-switching performance, the stronger intensity and F0 were modulated (target overshoot). Moreover, motor impairment within the PwPD group was related to a decrease in the acoustic vowel space (target undershoot), which further resulted in a decrease in speech intelligibility and naturalness. This behaviour of target over- and undershoot indicates an inefficient way of prominence marking in PwPD with mildly affected speech. Conclusion: PwPD with signs of mild dysarthria did not differ from the control speakers with respect to their strategies of prominence marking. However, only the PwPD overused F0 and intensity in prominent positions. Overmodulation of F0 and intensity was correlated with the patient's task-switching ability and reflected abnormalities in the regulatory mechanism for expressing prosodic prominence. This is the first study to report a link between cognitive skills and speech production at the phonetic level in PwPD.