Singing therapy helps patients speak again

Nicole Spurgeon, a Board Certified Music Therapist at Kennedy Krieger Institute, sings with patient Dan Baker. (Photo: Rebecca McDevitt)

The recovery of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is an inspirational story. Through a technique called music therapy, she slowly began to unlock words and speak again. The music was a mechanism to find words she otherwise struggled to speak.

Many patients are benefiting from the treatment.

Dan Baker, 19, suffered a traumatic brain injury last August in a car crash in Columbia, Maryland. The teen couldn't speak at first, but over time, therapy like singing the famous song "Time of Your Life" by Green Day, has changed that.

Music therapist Nicole Spurgeon at Kennedy Krieger Institute says Baker has improved dramatically with the help of music.

"It was so exciting to see, it was so exciting to see him sing and to be able to read these song sheets," Spurgeon said.

At Medstar National Rehab Hospital, 49-year-old Dorman Simmons is working hard, too. Simmons was a Capitol police officer and lead security officer for Nancy Pelosi when he had a devastating stroke while on the job.

A father of two, he now has the exasperating job of re-learning even the simplist things.

SEE PHOTOS of singing therapy.

Simmons couldn't speak for weeks after his stroke but now, his sisters say his progress is encouraging, thanks to music.

"We're absolutely amazed at how far he's come," said sister Sharon Simmons.

Therapists say music makes the entire brain fire and is often the first way patients speak again.

"Music is sort of natural and automatic, so it's that automatic nature that helps people say things they couldn't otherwise say," said Chris Baron with the MedStar National{ } Rehab Hospital.

Not to mention music can lift the spirit at the same time.

The next step is to bridge the gap between singing and speaking. Therapists say the goal is for these patients to transfer their skills into a sentence and eventually a conversation.