An Arizona woman is making headlines for a condition that sounds too absurd to be true.
Michelle Myers, a mother of seven from Buckeye, told ABC 15 that on several occasions, she’s gone to bed with a pounding headache and awoken sounding totally different. The first time it happened, she woke up with an Irish accent. The second time, she sounded Australian. And two years ago, she woke up with a British accent—and hasn’t been able to shake it.
“I feel like a different person,” Myers told ABC 15 of watching a video of her old voice. “The person I am now has been through so much compared to this person.”
Myers’ case might sound made up, but experts say it’s legit. It even has a name: foreign accent syndrome. Here’s what to know about the extremely rare diagnosis.
What is foreign accent syndrome?
Just as the name suggests, foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a speech disorder that makes the sufferer sound like she has an accent from another country, according to the University of Texas Dallas (UT). The first known case was observed in 1907, when a Parisian man developed an Alsatian accent after suffering a stroke, the Atlantic reports. Since then, only about 100 people have been diagnosed with the unusual condition, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What causes foreign accent syndrome?
Research suggests that most cases of FAS result from damage to the brain, though some people may develop the condition due to psychological factors. Even if brain damage is to blame, however, researchers aren’t totally sure how and why it results in FAS.
In some cases, according to UT, the condition follows a stroke or a traumatic brain injury. But in other instances, the link is less clear. For example, a Texas woman reported last year that she developed a British accent after jaw surgery. A 2008 case study examined a woman who first developed panic disorder, then speech impairments, then FAS after her father’s death. A number of other puzzling case studies have also been published in the medical literature.
What makes someone sound like she has an accent?
Someone with FAS sees changes in their speech timing, intonation, and tongue placement, which adds up to a dialect that’s coherent but markedly different from the person’s normal voice. Other changes associated with FAS include unusual stress placed on certain syllables, substituting or distorting letters, inserting extra sounds into words, or making other mild errors while talking, according to UT.
Is there a treatment for foreign accent syndrome?
While some patients do regain their normal speech patterns, either spontaneously or as other health problems are treated, FAS has proved difficult to reverse. UT attempted to treat a patient who had developed a Swedish accent by using accent reduction techniques meant to reshape the way she pronounced certain vowels and consonants, for example, but they were ultimately unsuccessful.