Age at Disease Onset Results in Distinct Speech Patterns

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by Marisa Wexler |

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People with early- or late-onset Parkinson’s disease tend to have different characteristic changes in their speech, according to a new study.

The study, “Distinct patterns of speech disorder in early-onset and late-onset de-novo Parkinson’s disease,” was published recently in npj Parkinson’s Disease.

As many as nine in 10 people with Parkinson’s will experience speech problems as a symptom of the disease. However, little is understood about whether, or how, different kinds of speech problems tend to manifest in different subtypes of Parkinson’s.

Here, a team of researchers in the Czech Republic conducted a series of analyses to look for differences in speech patterns in people with early-onset (before age 50) or late-onset (after age 70) Parkinson’s disease.

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“This study strives to determine phenotypes of speech disorder based on the age of the PD [Parkinson’s disease] onset,” the team wrote.

The study included 24 early-onset patients (average age 45.1) and 24 late-onset patients (average age 75.4), all of whom were newly diagnosed and never had been treated for Parkinson’s. There also were matched groups of 24 younger healthy people and 24 older healthy people. Across all groups, slightly more than half the participants were men.

Each of the participants made speech recordings, and the recordings were analyzed with a technique called acoustic analysis, which “provides objective, sensitive and quantifiable information for the precise assessment of speech performance from very early stages of PD,” the researchers wrote.

Results suggested that, compared to healthy people their age, people with early-onset disease had weak inspirations (reflecting quieter voice volume). Inspirations in early-onset patients were generally similar to those in older individuals, with or without Parkinson’s.

By comparison, late-onset patients tended to have poor voice quality and imprecise consonants, compared either to early-onset patients or healthy patients of any age.

These differences based on age at onset may reflect differences in brain damage that occurs in early- and late-onset patients, or may have to do with differing compensatory strategies, the researchers said, noting a need for further research.

“Further exploration of the pathophysiologic [disease-related physiological] differences among PD speech phenotypes defined according to the gender and/or different clinical criteria is warranted to shed light on the underlying mechanisms” of speech problems in Parkinson’s, they concluded.

Regardless of age at onset, Parkinson’s patients tended to score worse for monotonous tone and volume. “As these speech dimensions are consistently impaired in PD and at the same time not affected by aging, they might provide useful biomarkers for an early diagnosis of parkinsonism,” the team wrote.

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