Foreign Accent Syndrome

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Imagine waking up one day, and find that your voice is no longer yours. According to Seattle Times that is exactly what happened to Cindy Lou. According to the article Cindy Lou Romberg suffered from a brain injury in 1981 after which she suffered from chronic headaches and backaches, which she managed by going to a chiropractor. Then one day about a year ago she was feeling particularly bad, and went to a different chiropractor, and within 48 hours she was talking gibberish. The gibberish now comes and goes, however her voice is now an octave lower, and although she was born in the United States and has never visited a foreign country (with the exception of Canada), she has an accent that sounds more German, French, or Russian.

Cindy Lou has been diagnosed as suffering from Foreign Accent Syndrome, of which there have only been 50 or 60 cases verified worldwide. Seattle Times reports:

There’s no ironclad test,” says Jack Ryalls, an expert on neurologically based speech disorders at the University of Central Florida.

Typically, neurological damage — generally in the brain’s left hemisphere — is followed by the inability to use words properly or at all, then a gradual return of speech, albeit altered. Most cases develop within one or two years of the original injury, making Romberg’s case unusual.

While some researchers claim curative success using speech therapy, he says, “A person has to have some degree of conscious control” for it to work, and most victims seem not to. The few who regain their normal voices just do so with time, he says.

Our voices are part of our identities, which is why some victims of FAS are so devastated. Other people just shrug their shoulders, count their blessings and move on. The only evidence of Romberg’s former self is on her cell phone, where a bright, melodic voice asks callers to leave a message.

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About Penny R Miller, MS, LPC, CBIS

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