Professor Sona Patel of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology within the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall is collaborating with Dr. Argye Hillis and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University on a $3.2M grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIH/NIDCD) to study the cognitive processes damaged during stroke and the natural course of recovery over a year. NIH/NICD awarded Seton Hall a subcontract of $280,000 for its part in the study.
Dr. Hillis is Executive Vice Chair of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins and a renowned specialist in stroke treatment. Together with Professor Patel's expertise in speech analytics, they are investigating the neural and cognitive processes involved in producing emotions in speech and how these processes can be damaged during stroke.
One of their most recent publications entitled, "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 effected and stroke victims can lose the ability to register or comprehend the variations in others' speech so important to understanding.
Whether speaking or understanding, diminished affective prosody can have a major impact on the quality of life for stroke victims in recovery. Patel writes:
Appropriate expression and recognition of prosody is also critical for effective social interaction. Despite the impact of diminished affective prosody on quality of life and function in society, these disorders are understudied, and there are few evidence-based treatments for these disorders.
The study funded by NIH/ NIDCD hopes to address this.
"The vox humana is, it seems, a cerebral instrument," says co-author Patel. "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. 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."
Although prior studies have looked at the effect of lesions after stroke in the cortical areas (gray matter) of the brain, Patel and her colleagues were able to discover and demonstrate a correlation between the presence of lesions in certain areas of the brain's white matter with the impaired delivery and recognition of emotion through speech or affective prosody disorder.
Professor Vikram Dayalu, chair of Speech-Language Pathology at Seton Hall, noted, "At Seton Hall we are truly pleased to be a home to such exciting and cutting edge research and the follow-up study that will now seek to build on this work and move toward effective interventions— this can have a major impact on people's lives."