Sign language aphasia from a neurodegenerative disease

Academic Article


  • While Alois Alzheimer recognized the effects of the disease he described on speech and language in his original description of the disease in 1907, the effects of Alzheimer's disease (AD) on language in deaf signers has not previously been reported. We evaluated a 55-year-old right-handed congenitally deaf woman with a 2-year history of progressive memory loss and a deterioration of her ability to communicate in American Sign Language, which she learned at the age of eight. Examination revealed that she had impaired episodic memory as well as marked impairments in the production and comprehension of fingerspelling and grammatically complex sentences. She also had signs of anomia as well as an ideomotor apraxia and visual-spatial dysfunction. This report illustrates the challenges in evaluation of a patient for the presence of degenerative dementia when the person is deaf from birth, uses sign language, and has a late age of primary language acquisition. Although our patient could neither speak nor hear, in many respects her cognitive disorders mirror those of patients with AD who had normally learned to speak. © 2013 Copyright The work of Kenneth M. Heilman was authored as part of his official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 USC. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under US Law. Adam D. Falchook, Rachel I. Mayberry, Howard Poizner, David Brandon Burtis and Leilani Doty hereby waive their right to assert copyright, but not their right to be named as co-authors in the article.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Neurocase  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Falchook AD; Mayberry RI; Poizner H; Burtis DB; Doty L; Heilman KM
  • Start Page

  • 434
  • End Page

  • 444
  • Volume

  • 19
  • Issue

  • 5