Motor neuron disease: the impact of decreased speech intelligibility on marital communication

  • Karin Joubert University of the Witwatersrand
  • Juan Bornman University of Pretoria
Keywords: Motor Neuron Disease, speech intelligibility, marital communication, augmentative and alternative communication, dysarthria, spouses.


Background: The onset of motor neuron disease (MND), a neurodegenerative disease, results in physical and communication disabilities that impinge on an individual’s ability to remain functionally independent. Multiple aspects of the marital relationship are affected by the continuously changing roles and responsibilities. Communication is one of the most constructive ways of dealing with emotions that are elicited by these changes. Method: This study explored the association between the deteriorating speech of persons with MND and couples’ perception of marital communication. Fourteen couples participated in this non-experimental correlational research study. Data were collected over a 12-month period through the administration of objective and subjective measures. Results: Results showed that despite decreased speech intelligibility, the relationship between the deteriorating speech and the couples’ perception of marital communication was not statistically significant. Conclusion: Overall, the results proved that the supposition that communication between couples will invariably deteriorate as a result of progressively reduced speech intelligibility is not necessarily valid. The fundamental importance of effective communication in marriage is highlighted. It is well established that augmentative and alternative communication strategies can preserve the ability to develop and maintain intimate rewarding relationships, even in the face of profound physical disabilities.

Author Biographies

Karin Joubert, University of the Witwatersrand
PhD Senior Lecturer Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology University of the Witwatersrand
Juan Bornman, University of Pretoria
PhD Director Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication University of Pretoria
Original Research