Congresswoman’s brain: The Temporal Lobe and Speech

I normally don’t blog as a psychologist, as I am scrupulous about not using my profession’s authority to back up my personal opinions. However, at this point I am hearing a lot of speculation on what might be damaged in the Arizona congresswoman’s brain, and would hope I can add something educational.

Initially, the indications I have heard suggest that she was wounded on the left side of her brain and the right side was not involved with the bullet wound. The wound apparently was in the area that is cosidered the speech center of the brain, and in addition, it traversed to the frontal area, where some decision making is usually made.

The human brain has a lot of plasticity, and with Gabby being young she will have a lot better chance of recovering any functions that are actually lost, from these bullet wounds. Since the surgeons got to her before swelling could push the brain down, she is not likely to be in danger of dying, at least from the wound itself, and the great care she is getting should ensure that.

Over the next 7-10 days we will likely hear about what functions she still retains, and what her initial rehabilitation will be addressing. The reports that she can squeeze a doctor’s hand, in response to a question suggest she is understanding speech, and that her non-dominant side of her brain (the right hand side) is able to act without too many problems. That would involve physical actions like squeezing the hand, that do not require speech production — although the right hand, which is conneced to the left brain — might have more trouble.

She also has seemed to be able to recognize and respond to simple verbal commands, like squeeze my hand. This suggests she will be able to understand speech, and if that is true, then that goes along way towards being able to retain her work as a congressman. Speech production problems are often referred to as aphasia. This is an area where she will most likely have to have some rehabilitation.

I am of course not her doctor, and I have not seen the patient, so this information is offered because it seems there is a lot of hunger for news about what she will be dealing with. I could never diagnose her from afar, and have not had an opportunity to examine her, or even see anything but the most rudimentary accounts of her wounds. I will write in more depth when I have more concrete facts about the congresswoman from Arizona who was shot.