Gabby Giffords

Profiles of Aphasia: Gabby Giffords

People with aphasia are in good company. Last week, we talked about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s aphasia, which popped up later in life likely due to mini strokes. Today we’re going to talk about someone whose aphasia story is still unfolding: Gabby Giffords.

Life Changing Event

Gabrielle Giffords, a former US Representative from Arizona, had her life changed in an instant during a public gathering. She was injured from a gunshot wound to her head during an assassination attempt in January 2011.


The physical recovery has been long and hard. By June 2011, Giffords’s chief of staff Pia Carusone, touched on her aphasia:

We do a lot of inferring with her because her communication skills have been impacted the most,” Carusone said. “If you think of it as someone who is able to communicate with you clearly, it is easy to test them. You can ask them a series of questions, and you can get clear answers back. Whereas with Gabby, what we’ve been able to infer and what we believe is that her comprehension is very good. I don’t know about percentage-wise or not, but it’s close to normal, if not normal.

She could comprehend what was said, but she couldn’t communicate back.

She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she’s still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing. Add it all together, and she’s able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But, when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that’s where she’s had the trouble.

Giffords Today

She resigned from Congress a year later in January 2012 so she could focus on her recovery. Five years later, she still is experiencing non-fluent aphasia and speaks with single words or short phrases.

She has become a major advocate for gun control and continues to push herself physically and intellectually, studying Spanish and skydiving or hiking the Grand Canyon.

Image: Bill Morrow via Flickr via Creative Commons license



  • Anonymous
    July 30, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    I enjoyed this. My sister 49 had a stroke and suffered expressive alphasia. This article is amazing
    Derenda Edmondson

  • carolann
    February 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Thank you, I have receptive aphasia, have great difficulty understanding verbal communication. I appreciate reading how others have worked to overcome. Gabby was the scource of my courage after my two strokes! Thank you!

  • Sharon Dawson
    March 11, 2018 at 1:55 am

    My son was in an accident in 2009 and has TBI and Aphasia to some degree. His short term memory was affected and the side effect of a TBI. He has never been in any support group, he has really fought hard to live his life for his three children and he has not made it about himself. I just think it would be helpful if he others to learn with and share with. I am not sure what he is going to do with this. He is a kind gentle man.

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