Accent processing in dementia.
Hailstone JC., Ridgway GR., Bartlett JW., Goll JC., Crutch SJ., Warren JD.
Accented speech conveys important nonverbal information about the speaker as well as presenting the brain with the problem of decoding a non-canonical auditory signal. The processing of non-native accents has seldom been studied in neurodegenerative disease and its brain basis remains poorly understood. Here we investigated the processing of non-native international and regional accents of English in cohorts of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD; n=20) and progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA; n=6) in relation to healthy older control subjects (n=35). A novel battery was designed to assess accent comprehension and recognition and all subjects had a general neuropsychological assessment. Neuroanatomical associations of accent processing performance were assessed using voxel-based morphometry on MR brain images within the larger AD group. Compared with healthy controls, both the AD and PNFA groups showed deficits of non-native accent recognition and the PNFA group showed reduced comprehension of words spoken in international accents compared with a Southern English accent. At individual subject level deficits were observed more consistently in the PNFA group, and the disease groups showed different patterns of accent comprehension impairment (generally more marked for sentences in AD and for single words in PNFA). Within the AD group, grey matter associations of accent comprehension and recognition were identified in the anterior superior temporal lobe. The findings suggest that accent processing deficits may constitute signatures of neurodegenerative disease with potentially broader implications for understanding how these diseases affect vocal communication under challenging listening conditions.