Gabby Giffords is treating her aphasia with music—the French horn, specifically. She started playing the instrument when she was 13 years old and now uses it to treat aphasia following a traumatic head injury from a gunshot wound.
The bullet tore through the left side of her brain, straight through the section responsible for speech and language. A single moment changed her world, affecting her ability to speak.
Aphasia Means Hard Work
As Giffords says, “Aphasia really sucks. The words are there in my brain. I just can’t get them out. I love to talk. I’m gabby.” It’s easy to see that aphasia affects communication, not intellect. Gabby Giffords is still as clever as she was before the injury.
Her speech therapist, Fabi Hirsch Kruse, states that regaining communication skills is difficult. “We have spent a lot of time trying to build the things she wants to say into things that are more fluent and easy for her to achieve. And it takes a lot of work.”
Some of that work comes in the form of music therapy. While in the rehabilitation center following the shooting, she began neurologic music therapy. Dr. Gerard Francisco oversaw her recovery at the center and explains, “We also used neurologic music therapy, because we are firm believers that the language center is connected to other parts of the brain that can help recover not only speech. It can also help recover cognition and movement as well.”
While doctors don’t know exactly how it works, they know that music encourages brain plasticity. It builds new connections because music engages so many parts of the brain at once. And, at the very least, music is healing. Certain songs are emotional, and practicing music can be enjoyable; welcomed work during recovery.
You can watch the nine-minute interview on PBS.