What Is Neuroplasticity?
Dr. Scharlene Gaudet explains neuroplasticity
As you’ve begun the journey of healing your brain after an injury, it’s likely that you’ve come across the term “neuroplasticity.” It is truly remarkable and a cornerstone of the work we do in functional neurology, so we want to make sure neuroplasticity is understood in its fullness. Many of our patients come in still a bit confused by this important concept, so let’s break it down simply, but without watering it down.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s amazing ability to repair itself, change neural networks, grow new pathways and connections, and adapt to stimuli.
This occurs through consistently repeated activities or tasks, which, over time form new connections between neurons (brain cells) and develop new pathways. With each repetition of this activity or action, such as learning a language, playing an instrument, or meditating, this neural pathway becomes more efficient and more solidified in our nervous system. Essentially, the more we perform a certain task, the better we are at that task because of the brain’s adaptations of the neural pathways involved in performing the task.
A large portion of this refinement and efficiency occurs from increased myelination of those neural pathways.
Think of myelin like a conductor that allows the electrical impulses to travel quickly and masterfully between neurons (via the axons, which are essentially the outreaching arms of the neurons). At first, the new action is unfamiliar, so the electrical impulses don’t travel between neurons very cleanly and confidently. Over repeated practice, the connections between neurons become stronger, and the increased myelination improves the efficiency of this neuron-to-neuron communication.
Imagine that you are just starting to learn a new instrument. The hand movements are a bit rigid and unsure, and you must focus a lot of conscious attention on every aspect of it. It’s as if playing this instrument could be represented by a dirt road with a lot of potholes–difficult to maneuver quickly and a bit turbulent. As you spend hours, days, weeks, and months playing the instrument, however, you notice that it becomes easier and easier, more natural. Your hands move freely and it becomes second-nature as you can feel into the emotion of the instrument since your mind isn’t consumed by the technical components of playing. This dirt road that was previously rocky and difficult to drive on has slowly but consistently turned into a smoothly paved highway.
Outdated schools of thought previously told us that the brain is only “plastic” (i.e. exhibiting neuroplasticity) for the first portion of our lives as the brain develops, which made a stroke or brain injury seem like an irreversible, permanent condition. Research over the last few decades, however, has disproven this notion and shows that the brain continues to utilize neuroplasticity throughout our entire lives, even into our elder years.
This was a revolutionary breakthrough in the field of functional neurology, as it clearly demonstrated that the brain does in fact possess the ability to repair itself after a devastating injury.
Our therapies at Resiliency are well-researched in their ability to harness the brain’s power of neuroplasticity to affect positive, lasting changes in the brain after an injury. Whether it’s the electromagnetic impulses from rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation) or eye movement exercises specific to each patient’s treatment plan, the combinations of therapies can produce powerful results.
Our doctors understand the methodology of applying certain stimuli at the right times and having patients consistently perform the correct tasks to help the brain heal and develop resiliency.
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