Brain Plasticity (Neuroplasticity) – It’s Something We’ve Heard About but What Is It?
A lot of online games and apps promise to enhance our brain plasticity but what does that mean and why is it a good thing?
Brain plasticity refers to the fact that the brain can be modified by our experiences. We can ‘rewire’ the path signals travel in the brain and how the brain functions. This is good news for anyone who has had a brain injury.
Historically we thought that each part of the brain served a unique function. If that part of the brain was damaged by trauma or medical condition, those functions were lost for good. For example, they believed stroked victims would forever have lost the use of one side of their body.
We now know that cognitive and physical exercises following brain injury can help individuals regain functions that are lost due to the injury. For example, by doing cognitive exercises like playing online games you can teach the brain to transmit messages around damaged portions of the brain.
Researchers can see the changes to brain tissue in individuals without brain damage who exercise their brains in specific ways. For example, people who speak more than one language have a larger left hemisphere of the brain. They can see that even an hour of vocabulary training can change to brain wiring.
We know that children are sponges and that their brains absorb information at incredible rates. As we age, this ability slows, but it is still possible to changethe brain’s wiring.
Research has also shown that many other factors can change brain wiring too. Strong emotional experiences (PTSD), smoking cessation, and new exercise regimens can alter brain responses and generate new neural pathways.
Keeping neuroplasticity as we age is important. The ability to change the brain is only maintained if skills are practiced regularly. You can think of it as a ‘use it or lose it’ attribute. If you don’t continue to learn new things, to exercise your brain, then old pathway routes begin to be used again.
The implications of brain plasticity and mental health with the increasing number of poeple diagnosed with ementia is taking on greater importance. Research is being dedicated to determining how or if it can help slow dementia and Alzheimers.
The takeaway is that to maintain good brain health and to achieve good recovery after a serious brain injury it is vital to use your brain daily in new ways. Challenge yourself mentally, play word puzzles, learn new tasks and languages, take up new sports or hobbies, and practice your existing skills.