Just one week of speech therapy seems to reorganize the brain, resulting in reduced stuttering, according to a Chinese study which sheds light on the roles each brain region plays during stuttering.
Researchers recruited 28 participants with stuttering problems and 13 people who did not stutter. Fifteen people in the stuttering group received a week of therapy with three sessions per day, while the rest of the people in the stuttering group and the control group received no therapy.
Therapy consisted of participants repeating two-syllable words spoken to them and then reading and saying words words out loud. There was no time limit in either task.
For those who received therapy, there was an improvement in the average scores on stuttering tests and a decrease in the percent of stuttered syllables. There was no change in scores for the stutterers who did not receive therapy.
In all participants, brain scans were used to measure the thickness of the cerebral cortex in the brain at the beginning and end of the study. Researchers also evaluated the interactions between areas of the brain while at rest, called resting state functional connectivity.
In those with stuttering problems, thickness and strength of interactions was reduced in the pars opercularis — an area of the brain vital to speech and language production — compared to the controls. On the other hand, stronger interactions were found in the cerebellum for those with stuttering compared to the controls.
For those who received the therapy, the functional connectivity in the cerebellum was reduced to the same level as that of the controls. No difference was found in the pars opercularis area of the brain.
“These results show that the brain can reorganize itself with therapy, and that changes in the cerebellum are a result of the brain compensating for stuttering,” said study author Chunming Lu, Ph.D., of Beijing Normal University in China. “They also provide evidence that the structure of the pars opercularis area of the brain is altered in people with stuttering.”
Christian A. Kell, M.D., of Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, said, “These findings should further motivate therapists and researchers in their efforts to determine how therapy works to reorganize the brain and reduce stuttering.”