Gabrielle Giffords Her Fight for her Life
Giffords suffered from aphasia -- the inability to speak because of damage to the language pathways in her brain's left hemisphere. But by layering words on top of melody and rhythm, she trained her brain to use a less-traveled pathway to the same destination.
"Music is that other road to get back to language," said Meaghan Morrow, Giffords' music therapist and a certified brain injury specialist at TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston. Morrow compared the process to a freeway detour.
"You aren't able to go forward on that pathway anymore," she said, but "you can exit and go around, and get to where you need to go."
The brain's ability to pave new pathways around damaged areas is called neuroplasticity. An adult can relearn to speak -- with the right training and a lot of practice, according to Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, associate professor of neurology and director of the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.