Sentence Comprehension in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Lori Altmann, Ph.D.
Emily Plowman, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disease that impacts upper and lower motor neurons. ALS can begin as spinal-onset, targeting the limbs, or as bulbar-onset, presenting with changes in speech and swallow. In addition to the motor consequences of the disease, cognitive changes have been observed in this population. Cognitive skills like inhibition and working memory are important for functional sentence comprehension. Prior studies have also uncovered atrophy in brain areas implicated in syntactic comprehension. While a large body of work has focused on investigating speech production in this population, studies analyzing language comprehension are more limited. This study aimed to investigate cognitive function and syntactic comprehension in the ALS population and compare performance to healthy controls. Five individuals with ALS and 11 healthy controls participated in the study. Participants underwent a cognitive battery and completed a sentence-picture matching task consisting of relative clause sentences. Results show that individuals with ALS were comparable to controls in both accuracy and speed on the syntactic comprehension task. However, differences were uncovered between individuals with ALS and controls on tasks measuring inhibition and task switching, with ALS participants performing more poorly compared to controls. The results of this study indicate that syntactic comprehension can be intact for individuals with ALS even when executive function is impaired. However, these results may not apply to all ALS participants, as the participants who were willing to complete the online study may not be reflective of all cognitive profiles in this population.