Sylvia Josephy-Hernandez, Neguine Rezaii, Amelia Jones, Emmaleigh Loyer, Daisy Hochberg, Megan Quimby, Bonnie Wong, Bradford C Dickerson

Automated analysis of written language in the three variants of primary progressive aphasia

  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Abstract Despite the important role of written language in everyday life, abnormalities in functional written communication have been sparsely investigated in primary progressive aphasia. Prior studies have analysed written language separately in each of the three variants of primary progressive aphasia—but have rarely compared them to each other or to spoken language. Manual analysis of written language can be a time-consuming process. We therefore developed a program that quantifies content units and total units in written or transcribed language samples. We analysed written and spoken descriptions of the Western Aphasia Battery picnic scene, based on a predefined content unit corpus. We calculated the ratio of content units to units as a measure of content density. Our cohort included 115 participants (20 controls for written, 20 controls for spoken, 28 participants with nonfluent variant primary progressive aphasia, 30 for logopenic variant and 17 for semantic variant). Our program identified content units with a validity of 99.7% (95%CI 99.5–99.8). All patients wrote fewer units than controls (P < 0.001). Patients with the logopenic variant (P = 0.013) and the semantic variant (0.004) wrote fewer content units than controls. The content unit-to-unit ratio was higher in the nonfluent and semantic variants than controls (P = 0.019), but no difference in the logopenic variant (P = 0.962). Participants with the logopenic (P < 0.001) and semantic (P = 0.04) variants produced fewer content units in written compared to spoken descriptions. All variants produced fewer units in written samples compared to spoken (P < 0.001). However, due to a relatively smaller decrease in written content units, we observed a larger content unit-to-unit ratio in writing over speech (P < 0.001). Written and spoken content units (r = 0.5, P = 0.009) and total units (r = 0.64, P < 0.001) were significantly correlated in patients with nonfluent variant, but this was not the case for logopenic or semantic. Considering all patients with primary progressive aphasia, fewer content units were produced in those with greater aphasia severity (Progressive Aphasia Severity Scale Sum of Boxes, r = −0.24, P = 0.04) and dementia severity (Clinical Dementia Rating scale Sum of Boxes, r = −0.34, P = 0.004). In conclusion, we observed reduced written content in patients with primary progressive aphasia compared to controls, with a preference for content over non-content units in patients with the nonfluent and semantic variants. We observed a similar ‘telegraphic’ style in both language modalities in patients with the nonfluent variant. Lastly, we show how our program provides a time-efficient tool, which could enable feedback and tracking of writing as an important feature of language and cognition.

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