A recently published study has demonstrated that intensive home-based speech therapy can improve dysarthria (difficulty speaking) in autosomal recessive spastic ataxia Charlevoix-Saguenay (ARSACS).

Speech deficits in ARSACS are known to affect intelligibility, vocal control, and prosody (the appropriate manipulation of duration, loudness, and pitch). The treatment tested was specifically designed to target these three functions. It was designed with patients in mind and considered a number of important factors to make it easy to perform e.g. completing the therapy at home.

Seven individuals with genetically confirmed ARSACS were recruited from the Department of Neurology, University Hospital Tübingen, Germany and Alfred Health, Melbourne Australia. The effect of the speech treatment tailored to cerebellar dysarthria was examined via a 4-week long programme. Participants were rated on their ‘intelligibility’ (ability to be understood) and ‘naturalness’ (degree to which individuals sound ‘different’ from people without ataxia) 4 weeks before, immediately prior to, and directly after training. During the intervention period, subjects trained about 45 min per day, 5 days per week, for 4 weeks at their homes. Training was monitored by weekly telephone calls by a speech therapist.

Speech intelligibility and naturalness were found to improve after treatment. Additionally, the treatment achieved a 100% percent completion rate. This provides preliminary evidence that ataxia-tailored speech treatment might be effective in degenerative cerebellar ataxia, however, further studies still need to be done in larger groups of people and in other types of ataxias. The authors of the study say these are their priorities for future research.

View the abstract for the study here.