Aphasia and Singing

There have been a lot of news stories last week and this week about Bruce Willis who has developed aphasia. Aphasia usually happens after a stroke but can be caused by other things. Language and communication, which are controlled by the left side of the brain, are usually affected. Here is the New York Times explanation.

I was surprised that the Times didn't mention that many aphasic individuals, while they can't speak, can sing. (Singing is controlled by the right side of the brain).

In 2015, I wrote about aphasia and singing, describing a woman I represented in the 1970's. Following a brain aneurysm in her early 30's, she was a quadriplegic and she couldn't talk. It's one of my favorite client stories. I am reprinting it below:

When I was a very young lawyer, I represented a 31 year old who suffered an aneurysm that left her aphasic and a quadriplegic. She only had partial use of one arm. Her words came out completely garbled. At the time of her aneurysm, she and her husband had a 1 1/2 year old daughter. Her husband was devoted to her -- for a year until he fell in love her nurse. After divorcing her and marrying the nurse, he was no longer willing to bring the toddler to see her mother. So the family wanted the Court to order visitation.

When the family retained me, the woman had been in a rehab facility for a while and progressed to living in an apartment with roommates. When she spoke, it was was like she had rocks in her mouth and I couldn't understand her. I spent a lot of time with her, and learned she could sing.

When the day came for the court hearing, I called her as a witness. A nurse wheeled her into the courtroom and placed her at the witness box. After confirming her name and that she had a daughter, I asked her how she felt about her daughter. In a voice as clear as a bell, and in perfect pitch, she sang out "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." Everyone in the courtroom had tears in their eyes, including the Judge.

We won the hearing and her ex-husband was ordered to bring her daughter to visit her every other Sunday afternoon.

I'm sending good thoughts to Bruce Willis and his family. They seem to be a blended family where they all get along, which of course, will be best for Bruce in so many ways.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Thanks for the great post (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 06, 2022 at 02:04:07 PM EST
    One of my best friends for years is suffering with Aphasia.  He was really the husband of one of my oldest friends, college, who died about a year ago.

    He had a stroke.  I visited him just a couple of weeks ago.  He had let his medical card expire so I brought him a care package and helped hm get it renewed.  He lives in Little Rock so it's not a day trip.  I stayed two days

    But David is a musician.  He is a pro.  He made his living playing with the same group of guys most of his life.  They never got famous but made a living playing dives and church picnics.

    Anyway, David can barely speak.  But it's clear he is completely lucid.  It must be maddening to know what you want to say and be unable to say it.  It effected his memory but not his ability to play.  He plays several in instruments.

    I never heard of aphasia until David.  It seems to be getting more notice.  If Bruce Willis remains a more or less public figure people will be shocked at what happens to him.

    David (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 06, 2022 at 02:09:14 PM EST
    Yes, Jeralyn (5.00 / 3) (#4)
    by KeysDan on Wed Apr 06, 2022 at 02:48:43 PM EST
    thank you for the great story.  And, Captain, for yours.

    That's sounded like (none / 0) (#8)
    by CaptHowdy on Thu Apr 07, 2022 at 07:18:58 AM EST
    it did not effect his playing ability.  It did.  He has trouble and can't play as well as he did but the point was he can play much better than he can speak.

    Reading that thing about Randy Travis it's clear how important speech therapy is.  David is not getting anything like the therapy Randy Travis got.  


    Randy Travis has been in the news with this (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 06, 2022 at 02:28:36 PM EST
    My daughter works with pre kindergarten (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by MO Blue on Wed Apr 06, 2022 at 03:14:08 PM EST
    Special needs children. One autistic child would not respond to anyone via the spoken word. Completely ignored anyone who tried to communicate with him.  His teachers found that if they sang instructions to him, he would respond. Also, it has been my experience that children and adults with Downs Syndrome love music and love to dance. At concerts in the park, you will find them dancing to almost every song.

    Oliver Sachs, M.D., included in his books many (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Wed Apr 06, 2022 at 10:26:54 PM EST
    accounts of the effect of music on his patients.

    Thank you Jeralyn (5.00 / 5) (#6)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 06, 2022 at 06:53:25 PM EST
    During dark days it is so good to hear about the sunshine.