Neuroplasticity

I’ve told my wife that if I ever have a stroke, or something else happens to me that affects my brain performance, make me read (or read to me if I can’t read) the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge.

BrainThe book is all about the latest research and development around neuroplasticity, or how our brains can rewire themselves, and adapt to all sorts of problems. For one thing, it talks about the very latest methods that are being used amazingly successfully in helping people who have had strokes. In the past, if a person had a left-hemisphere stroke, affecting the person’s use of their right hand and arm, the rehab would consist mostly of training the person to use their left hand to do what their right used to do. In other words, the thinking was that the damage was done, and the only solution now is to accept that you’ll never have full use of the hand again.

That approach is changing dramatically. In some places, rehab now consists of actually restricting the use of the person’s “good” hand, and forcing the person to work with the “damaged” side. If the “good” hand is allowed to be free, even if it isn’t used, the brain will struggle along trying to use the same parts of the brain to do what it used to, even though this part of the brain is now damaged. But – and this is the amazing part – if the “good” hand is restricted (even tied to the body so it can’t move) for long enough, while the person works with the “damaged” side, it’s as if the brain decides that it better figure out something to enable survival. In doing that, it begins to rewire where in the brain the control of the “damaged” side occurs.

As an example, if a person has a left hemisphere stroke, damaging the language center in the brain (which is in the left hemisphere), rather than just accepting that the damage is done and the person will have to live with limited language abilities, some now take a different approach. One approach is to force the person to use their left hand to write and/or use a computer mouse while speaking the name of an object in front of them. By activating the right hemisphere of the brain through physical use of the left hand, the brain begins to do some of the language work on that side. In other words, it begins to rewire the language center. The results are dramatic.

So, why would I want to read this book if I’d just had a stroke? Because it fills me with the knowledge that my brain can rebuild itself. My brain is very plastic, in that it can adapt. It can recover. And having that knowledge would inspire and motivate me – it would give me hope.

If anyone has any stories about neuroplasticity, and how the brain can rewire itself, I’d sure love to hear about them.

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