A Protocol for Comprehensive Assessment of Bulbar Dysfunction in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
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Improved methods for assessing bulbar impairment are necessary for expediting diagnosis of bulbar dysfunction in ALS, for predicting disease progression across speech subsystems, and for addressing the critical need for sensitive outcome measures for ongoing experimental treatment trials. To address this need, we are obtaining longitudinal profiles of bulbar impairment in 100 individuals based on a comprehensive instrumentation-based assessment that yield objective measures. Using instrumental approaches to quantify speech-related behaviors is very important in a field that has primarily relied on subjective, auditory-perceptual forms of speech assessment. Our assessment protocol measures performance across all of the speech subsystems, which include respiratory, phonatory (laryngeal), resonatory (velopharyngeal), and articulatory. The articulatory subsystem is divided into the facial components (jaw and lip), and the tongue. Prior research has suggested that each speech subsystem responds differently to neurological diseases such as ALS. The current protocol is designed to test the performance of each speech subsystem as independently from other subsystems as possible. The speech subsystems are evaluated in the context of more global changes to speech performance. These speech system level variables include speaking rate and intelligibility of speech.
The protocol requires specialized instrumentation, and commercial and custom software. The respiratory, phonatory, and resonatory subsystems are evaluated using pressure-flow (aerodynamic) and acoustic methods. The articulatory subsystem is assessed using 3D motion tracking techniques. The objective measures that are used to quantify bulbar impairment have been well established in the speech literature and show sensitivity to changes in bulbar function with disease progression. The result of the assessment is a comprehensive, across-subsystem performance profile for each participant. The profile, when compared to the same measures obtained from healthy controls, is used for diagnostic purposes. Currently, we are testing the sensitivity and specificity of these measures for diagnosis of ALS and for predicting the rate of disease progression. In the long term, the more refined endophenotype of bulbar ALS derived from this work is expected to strengthen future efforts to identify the genetic loci of ALS and improve diagnostic and treatment specificity of the disease as a whole. The objective assessment that is demonstrated in this video may be used to assess a broad range of speech motor impairments, including those related to stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson disease.