The brain’s ability to rewire itself is called neuroplasticity. Brain plasticity involves adaptive structural and functional brain changes. Without this ability, no brain, including the human brain, could develop from infancy to adulthood or heal from a brain injury.
Neuroplasticity and Its Relationship to Sensory and Motor Impulses
The brain processes sensory and motor impulses simultaneously. It also has several brain pathways that can copy the functions of others. This makes it easy to fix minor problems with development or damage by rerouting signals.
The Zika virus’s effects on brain development in the womb, or injury from a hit to the head or stroke, make the situation worse. But, even in these cases, the brain can overcome adversity and recover some functions under the right conditions. For example, neuroplasticity — creating new neural connections — helps the body heal after brain trauma.
Sensory and motor stimulation improves brain damage recovery. For stroke patients, sensory stimulation therapy includes virtual reality training, music therapy and the mental practice of physical movements.
Genes Determine Brain Anatomy and Function
Brain anatomy determines brain functions. Genes determine this. For example, one brain region controls proper arm movement. However, if another brain region is compromised, the arm can be felt but not moved because a different portion of the brain processes the arm feeling. This “modular” design keeps a part of the brain that has nothing to do with feeling or moving from switching roles. Thus, neuroplasticity does not imply brain malleability.
Your genes determine the basic anatomy of your brain before birth. But a process called “developmental plasticity,” in which neuronal and synaptic connections change as a person grows, is key to its continued development. This happens in different ways in a growing brain, such as when synapses are made or broken, when neurons move around the brain or when neurons reroute and grow.
Growing, Pruning, and Forging New Paths
As the brain develops, neurons send out many branches (called axons, which send information from the neuron and dendrites, which receive data) and make more synaptic connections with specific connections.
Each cerebral cortex neuron contains 2,500 synapses at birth. As the child explores and learns, synaptogenesis raises the number of synapses per neuron to roughly 15,000 by two or three years old. Synaptic pruning cuts synapses in half by adulthood. Why? Because some connections get stronger as we acquire new experiences while others fade away. Synaptic pruning is the term for this procedure.
It is not clear if the brain can increase synaptogenesis after a stroke. Still, this could explain why intensive treatment can seem to heal the damage caused by a lack of blood flow to a particular brain by strengthening connections that were not damaged.
Even as adults, we can learn new things. The brain needs a memory mechanism to store knowledge for later recall. This is another example of neuroplasticity and likely involves synapse-level structural and metabolic changes. Repetition helps adults recall new tasks. The wounded brain can recuperate in an enriched, stimulating environment.
Our Experiences Influence Neuroplasticity
Experiences shape our minds. Examples include:
- Recalling the name of someone you met the other day.
- Making a piece of creative writing, music or art.
- Finding a different way to get somewhere you have already been.
- Mastering a new board game’s rules.
- Learning to use a new electronic appliance like a cell phone or computer.
Teaching your brain to perform something new and repeating it may help you break negative habits, create new good ones, learn new abilities and think more clearly.
The brain changes throughout life, allowing us to learn new things or recover from brain injuries. Brain plasticity can be improved by pushing oneself, prioritizing sleep and exercising. Avoiding some substances helps, too.
Scheduling a Consultation with Foothills Neurology to Improve Your Neuroplasticity
Your brain can learn to do this again with the help of therapy and rehabilitation, which can fix or make new connections.
Neuroplasticity may also cure mental health issues. For example, neuroplasticity disruptions may cause depression-related negative thought patterns. However, positive neuroplasticity exercises may “rewrite” these tendencies to improve well-being.
Rewiring your brain is possible, despite its complexity. Contact us today to schedule a consultation regarding neuroplasticity treatments.