With Right Therapies, You Can Teach a Damaged Brain New Tricks

By Beal, Tom | AZ Daily Star, February 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

With Right Therapies, You Can Teach a Damaged Brain New Tricks


Beal, Tom, AZ Daily Star


Like much of what we know about the brain, knowledge of the areas involved in spoken and written language comes mainly from studying the loss of those abilities to trauma or disease.

Pelagie Beeson, who studies the neural substrates of written language, will talk Monday about "The Literate Brain." She will describe where those language centers lie and how she and her colleagues formulate therapies to restore function after those areas are damaged.

The lecture, part of the UA College of Science's series "The Evolving Brain," is at 7 p.m. in Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona Mall.

Beeson is a professor and head of the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Arizona, with a joint appointment in the Department of Neurology.

Speech and writing problems usually develop after damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, though a small number of people (usually left-handers) develop those skills in the right hemisphere, she said.

Through years of cataloging symptoms and imaging the brain, specialists such as Beeson and her research group have developed a pretty good understanding of where those centers are and can usually predict, before the brain is imaged, where the damage has occurred, based on symptoms.

Beeson's Aphasia Research Project sees clients at least six months and sometimes years or decades after loss of speech or writing function.

That six-month period, during which there is ongoing therapy, is also the period in which the brain repairs itself to the extent that it can.

Subjects can continue to improve through behavioral therapy by harnessing other, usually nearby, parts of the brain, to perform functions previously performed by damaged cells, she said.

This is especially true for younger patients, whose "elastic" brains can often develop language capabilities in the right hemisphere, Beeson said. That elasticity vanishes with youth.

Aphasia is the term applied to the acquired impairment of language, usually after stroke or trauma, but sometimes occurring with progressive neurological diseases.

It can be spoken, written or both. The acquired impairment of reading is known as alexia, and the impairment of spelling and writing is called agraphia. …

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