Neuroplasticity Explained

The brain can change and adapt both in structure and function throughout the lifetime. It does this to adjust to the environment and in response to learning and injury.

Neuroplasticity occurs throughout the life span, though certain changes are more prominent during certain sensitive periods. These include birth through age 3, the time when babies learn quickly.

What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is our brain’s ability to change and grow new neural pathways. It’s what allows us to learn new skills, remember information and recover from traumatic brain injuries.

For example, when someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, their brain strengthens the neural pathways associated with these behaviors. However, if they replace those harmful habits with healthier ones, their brain will create new neural pathways to support those healthy behaviors.

It’s also why we tend to acquire certain skills more quickly as babies and young children. This is because the brain’s plasticity peaks during sensitive periods, such as birth through age 3, according to the University of Missouri.

There are many ways to encourage neuroplasticity. These include new experiences, repetition and reducing stress levels. Yoga, meditation and other forms of mindful exercise can help reduce the brain’s stress response by promoting neuronal growth and boosting synaptic density. Some people even use brain-training games to improve processing speed.

Homologous area adaptation

The brain is able to “re-wire” itself after injury by creating new tendrils of connection between undamaged nerve cells (neurons). In addition, healthy regions of the brain can be recruited to perform functions that have been lost. This is what physiotherapists call neuroplasticity.

The concept of neuroplasticity was once thought to stop at childhood, but modern research has shown that it is ongoing. It is the reason why rehabilitation techniques are based on the science of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity can be structural or functional. Structural plasticity involves reorganizing connections between neurons, and functional plasticity can shift function from one region of the brain to another. This occurs in the case of use-dependent dystonia (writer’s cramp) and phantom limb pain, where functions that occur in the same part of the brain are transferred to the opposite side. Cross-modal reassignment also happens, whereby an area that normally processes visual information can be switched to process sound. Functional changes can also be maladaptive, as seen in the case of phobic anxiety and PTSD.

Compensatory masquerade

The ability to rewire and create new pathways in the brain is called neuroplasticity. It is one of the key features that make the human brain so versatile and adaptable to our constantly changing environment. Neuroplasticity allows us to reorganize our pathways, create new connections, and even form new neurons.

Biologically, there are four known forms of functional neuroplasticity: homologous area adaptation, map expansion, cross-model reassignment, and compensatory masquerade. These forms of functional plasticity are based on the reorganization of neurocognitive networks due to repeated stimulation.

Homologous area adaptation shifts cognitive tasks from a damaged region to its homologous counterpart in the healthy hemisphere. It also increases the chance of dual-task interference, i.e., the cognitive task performed in the healthy region may interfere with its impaired counterpart. This occurs more frequently in children than in adults. Map expansion refers to enlargement of cortical maps related to a specific cognitive process that is induced by frequent repetition of the same stimulus.

Cross-modal reassignment

In functional neuroplasticity, brain regions that are normally devoted to certain functions can accept input from other modalities. This is commonly seen in people who have lost their sight or hearing. It can also be seen in cognitive rehabilitation programs, where a patient is trained to use different cognitive processes for the same tasks.

This type of neuroplasticity is what allows patients to recover from traumatic injuries and improve their cognitive abilities. It can also help them cope with emotional issues like depression and anxiety. In addition, neuroplasticity can help them overcome addictive behaviors by strengthening the neural pathways associated with those habits.

Physical activities like running and cycling increase the rate at which neurons are produced in the brain, resulting in improved awareness and decision-making capabilities. Other techniques, such as meditation practices, can increase mental stability and control. These exercises also trigger neuroplasticity by directing attention to specific areas of the brain. They can also change the way we perceive ourselves and our environment.

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