Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is the most frequent recessive ataxia in the Western world. Dysarthria is a cardinal feature of FRDA, often leading to severe impairments in daily functioning, but its exact characteristics are only poorly understood so far. We performed a comprehensive evaluation of dysarthria severity and the profile of speech motor deficits in 20 patients with a genetic diagnosis of FRDA based on a carefully selected battery of speaking tasks and two widely used paraspeech tasks, i.e., oral diadochokinesis and sustained vowel productions. Perceptual ratings of the speech samples identified respiration, voice quality, voice instability, articulation, and tempo as the most affected speech dimensions. Whereas vocal instability predicted ataxia severity, tempo turned out as a significant correlate of disease duration. Furthermore, articulation predicted the overall intelligibility score as determined by a systematic speech pathology assessment tool. In contrast, neurologists’ ratings of intelligibility—a component of the “Scale for the Assessment and Rating of Ataxia”—were found to be related to perceived speech tempo. Obviously, clinicians are more sensitive to slowness of speech than to any other feature of spoken language during dysarthria evaluation. Our results suggest that different components of speech production and trunk/limb motor functions are differentially susceptible to FRDA pathology. Furthermore, evidence emerged that paraspeech tasks do not allow for an adequate scaling of speech deficits in FRDA.
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We would like to express our appreciation to the participants of this study for their willingness to support this research. This study was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG; AC55/6-3; Zi469/10-3).
Conflicts of Interest
The authors of this manuscript do not have any conflicts of interest
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