As some of you know I like reading on different subjects. One which am constantly exploring is Neuroplasticity.
Many of us have not ever heard about brain plasticity.
What is brain plasticity?. Brain Plasticity can also be referred as Neuroplasticity. Brain plasticity or Neuroplasticity (a common term used by neuroscientists) is our brain’s ability to change regardless of age, gender, race. When talking about the brain’s ability to change, I am referring to both, positive and negative changes.
Brain Plasticity is the process by which your brain changes depending on what has happened to it; this would include memory and the learning of new skills. It also refers to the process by which one can recover from damage to the brain, whether psychological, or physical.
Neuroplasticity works by studying the physical process. Our gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities. For example: Every time we learn a new skill our brain forges a new connection, however if we let go of learning new skills, or learning new concepts, or we abuse our body through alcohol or drugs then our neuron connections get damaged and our cognitive ability decreases; a degrading of our brain starts to show, not only psychologically but physically. Knowing this, we need to realize the importance of not taking an attitude in life where we simply give up on learning new concepts, ideas, skills, for it is in doing those things where we find the ability to rewire/heal our brain.
We tend to think of childhood and young adulthood as a time of brain growth. When we are young we constantly learn new things, embark on new adventures, shows an inquisitive and explorative spirit. By contrast older adulthood is often seen as a time of cognitive decline, with people becoming more forgetful, less inclined to seek new experiences, more set in their ways. Part of the reasoning for this type of behavior/belief comes from the old concept that our brain is hardwired, which neuroscience has proven is not!.
Neuroscientists have proven that given the right circumstances/information our brains plastic ability can help adult minds grow. It is true that certain brain attributes/machinery tend to decline with age, however is up to each person whether or not the declining process is a smooth one, or a rough one. It is within each person’s choice whether or not to change old wiring (habits, behavior, beliefs, etc.) keep in mind that lack of feeding our brain with new healthy information will only contribute to an stagnant estate of mind.
Let’s look at one aspect of plasticity; our memories. What are memories?. A memory is the ability to reconstruct the whole from a degraded fragment. Let me explain it a little bit better. Neuroplasticity works very closely with our senses; for example: Every time we interact with someone our auditory, visual, and other senses like smell, touch, all take in a part of information into our brain; those bits of information are then put together by our neurons into a whole picture. Traumatic events send stronger signals to our neurons which then fire together a stronger connection in our minds; it deeply engraves the memory in order to later on use the information/data for our “protection”.
The problem however occurs when our brain has been fed partial information, the picture which is then put together may not be the most accurate; regardless the neuro connection has been imbedded and only through close examining and retraining of the brain (re-educating our brain on what is danger and what is not) can a person who has lived through severe traumatic events start to experience a healthier life. The old belief of our brain being hardwired, would have made the path for recovery seem as something almost unattainable; Neuroplasticity then becomes very important as it makes the old belief obsolete by teaching people that any damaged old wiring can be changed into new wiring if the effort is put to do so.
The growing understanding of and interest in brain plasticity is driving a revolution in brain health and science; scientists and brain plasticity luminaries at institutions around the globe are beginning to look to plasticity based therapies for treating a wide spectrum of other cognitive problems.
Brain-plasticity based programs are now being taken more seriously as the results of their application are proving to be outstanding. The understanding and use of Neuroplasticity and how to apply it to our lives would be beneficial to society as a whole. It is however an choice which can only be made by each one of us. It involves work, work on ourselves which can be scary when it comes to our old beliefs and traumatic memories for one has to take a close look at things and relearn to “walk”; learning new skills and building new neuron connections which would result in healthier life patterns. Neuroplasticity might help schizophrenics improve their symptoms and live more normal lives. Musicians stricken with focal dystonia might learn to play again, without pain. People with mild cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s might halt the progression of their disease. Cancer patients whose ability to function has been impeded by the lasting cognitive effects of chemotherapy treatment might find their old selves again. Stroke or traumatic brain injury victims may relearn skills they thought were lost forever, isn’t that amazing?!.
When learning/re-educating our brain we send a new electrical charge to our neurons, by doing this we can force neurons to forge new connections, which results in new ways of seeing life. Of course this does not happen immediately as new neurons need to come together to associate, it takes work, persistence, patience, perseverance, but the benefits for all can be amazing; specially for survivors of traumatic events. Old neuron paths which hold traumatic memories can be severed. This does not mean the individual will no longer have a memory of the event, rather the event no longer holds the person hostage. The brain no longer sees little things as life threatening, which really is what happens with survivors; our brain looses the ability to recognize what is a viable threat vs what is not; treating all uncomfortable events with an overprotective mechanism which holds the person hostage and unable to properly function.
Continuity is extremely important when dealing with Neuroplasticity. Continuity is what causes a stronger synaptic reaction which awakens all the machinery involved in our neurons to create new connections. The more continuity you give your brain, the better, long lasting results you will get; so it is important to keep at it. Whether learning a new skill, or retraining our brain from traumatic experiences; continuity is key!
Of course pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs to awaken the neuron’s path process, however you don’t need to wait for that. You don’t need to become drug dependent!. Yes drugs can be helpful in certain situations, but let’s keep in mind they also have many other side effects, plus the fact that any changes will only last as long as your body is under the consumption of the chemical substance involved.
In the past it was thought we already had all the brains cells in us that we were ever going to have, this belief turned out to be untrue. We create thousands of active new brain cells everyday; physical exercise can help you increase the amount of active brain cells you produce. When we exercise the volume of our hippocampus actually gets bigger. Scientists are trying to understand what kind, which types of exercise optimized hippocampus growth; however all exercise is beneficial. Why is the hippocampus important?, let me explain: Did you know that all the information you feed your brain during the day is replayed while you sleep?. Your brain literally rebroadcasts all information from your hippocampus to the rest of your cerebral cortex. It is very important to be vigilant about the type of information you feed your brain everyday, because at night your cerebral cortex will be receiving all that information, playing it again and again, strengthening old or building new connections. So if you want Neuroplasticity to work for you, then feed your mind positive information, build new healthier memories, and then get a good night sleep and let your cerebral cortex do the work for you!