A description of verbal and gestural communication during postictal aphasia


  • Fasola Alexia
  • Alario F.-Xavier
  • Tellier Marion
  • Giusiano Bernard
  • Tassinari Carlo Alberto
  • Bartolomei Fabrice
  • Trébuchon Agnès


  • Language impairment
  • Postictal testing
  • Epilepsy
  • Co-speech gestures

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Patients suffering from drug-resistant temporal lobe epilepsy show substantial language deficits (i.e anomia) during their seizures and in the postictal period (postictal aphasia). Verbal impairments observed during the postictal period may be studied to help localizing the epileptogenic zone. These explorations have been essentially based on simple tasks focused on speech, thus disregarding the multi-modal nature of verbal communication, particularly the fact that, when speakers want to communicate, they often produce gestures of various kinds. Here, we propose an innovative procedure for testing postictal language and communication abilities, including the assessment of co-speech gestures. We provide a preliminary description of the changes induced on communication during postictal aphasia. We studied 21 seizures that induced postictal aphasia from 12 patients with drug-refractory epilepsy, including left temporal and left frontal seizures. The experimental task required patients to memorize a highly detailed picture and, briefly after, to describe what they had seen, thus eliciting a communicative meaningful monologue. This allowed comparing verbal communication in postictal and interictal conditions within the same individuals. Co-speech gestures were coded according to two categories: “Rhythmic” gestures, thought to be produced in support of speech building, and “illustrative” gestures, thought to be produced to complement the speech content. When postictal and interictal conditions were compared, there was decreased speech flow along with an increase of rhythmic gesture production at the expense of illustrative gesture production. The communication patterns did not differ significantly after temporal and frontal seizures, yet they were illustrated separately, owing to the clinical importance of the distinction, along with considerations of inter-individual variability. A contrast between rhythmic and illustrative gestures production is congruent with previous literature in which rhythmic gestures have been linked to lexical retrieval processes. If confirmed in further studies, such evidence for a facilitative role of co-speech gestures in language difficulties could be put to use in the context of multimodal language therapies.

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