- Dr. Simone
Neuroplasticity; brain at work at any age.
Our brains are constantly being shaped by experience. Most of us have very different behaviors and thoughts today than we did 10 or even 5 years ago. This change is related to neuroplasticity, which involves modifications in brain structure and organization as we experience, learn, and adapt. Neuroplasticity is also called brain plasticity or brain malleability.
Connections within the brain are constantly becoming stronger or weaker, depending on what is being used. Younger people change easily, their brains are very plastic however neuroplasticity is at work throughout life.
When we learn something new, new connections are created between our neurons. We rewire our brains to adapt to new circumstances. This happens on a daily basis, but it’s also something that we can harness and stimulate.
Therefore, unlike computers, which are built to certain specifications and receive software updates periodically, our brains can receive hardware updates in addition to software updates. Different pathways form and fall dormant, are created and are discarded, according to our experiences and needs.
This property of the brain may involve modifications in overall cognitive strategies to successfully cope with new challenges (i.e., attention, behavioral compensation), recruitment of new or different neural networks, changes in strength of connections or specific brain areas in charge of carrying out a particular task (i.e., movement, language, vision, hearing). At the cellular level, changes in membrane excitability, synaptic plasticity, as well as structural changes has been measured in vivo and in vitro.
The study of neuroplasticity engages scientists from many different disciplines because of the profound implications it has for understanding the functional foundations of action and cognition in the healthy and lesioned brain.
Neuroplasticity in Children
Children’s brains are constantly growing, developing, changing and adapting. Each new experience prompts a change in brain structure, function, or both.
At birth, each neuron in an infant’s brain has about 7,500 connections with other neurons; by the age of 2, the brain’s neurons have more than double the number of connections in an average adult brain. These connections are slowly pruned away as the child grows up and starts forming their own unique patterns and connections depending on what is being more frequently used.
These processes are stronger and more pronounced in young children, allowing them to recover from injury far more effectively than most adults. In children, profound cases of neuroplastic growth, recovery, and adaptation can be seen.
Importance of Neuroplasticity in Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Neurodevelopmental disorders are impairments of brain growth and development affecting several of brain’s functions, and include cognitive, motor, language, learning, and behavioral disorders. Neurodevelopmental disorders affect motor, cognitive, language, learning, and behavioral development with lifelong consequences.
Infants at high risk for cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental disorders can be identified early, ideally in the first weeks or months of life, through careful clinical and neurological evaluation combined with specific image examination, and genetic and metabolic tests when necessary.
As indicated by recent scientific evidence, gene abnormalities or congenital brain lesions are not the sole determinants for the neurodevelopmental outcome of affected infants. In fact, environment and experience through neuroplasticity may modify brain development and improve the outcome in infants at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.
Early identification of infants at risk for cerebral palsy is a major prerequisite for effective intervention programmes. This ensures that interventions which aim to positively modify the natural history of this condition can start in the first weeks or months of life when brain demonstrates the greatest plasticity and potential to alter the course of development. The goal of early intervention is to prevent or minimize motor, cognitive, emotional impairments in young children disadvantaged by biological or environmental risk factors.
As stated by the World Health Organization, identification of the infant at risk for a neurodevelopmental disorder is a crucial starting point to establish a close relationship between parents and health care providers and to provide early intervention with long lasting positive results.
Human neuroplasticity is one of the most important medical discoveries of the past 50 years. It offers new hope to people with a wide variety of neurological problems and even provides hope of improving our life quality as we can life better as we rewire our brain to establish better habits that contribute to our health, success, and well-being.
Take advantage of the brain’s plasticity to provide new opportunities for you, and to allow your child to develop well and shine throughout life.
A few methods to enhance or boost neuroplasticity include:
Physical exercise: Cardiovascular exercises boost oxygen supply to brain and increase brain volume. World Health Organization recommends that children and youth aged 5–17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.
Reducing stress: Stress is a silent killer, and it also diminishes neuroplasticity. If it is difficult to manage the sources of stress in your life, you can change how you respond to it. An excellent way to relax is to surround yourself with nature, music or to travel. Yoga and meditation can also help to control your stress responses.
Sleeping: Improves learning and memory through the growth of connections between neurons and help transfer information across cells.
Learning a language and learning a musical instrument: It may increase connectivity between brain regions and help form new neural networks.
Traveling: Exposes your brain to novel stimuli and new environments, opening up new pathways and activity in the brain.
Non-dominant hand exercises: This type of activity can form new neural pathways and strengthen the connectivity between neurons.
Reading a novel: Increases and enhances connectivity in the brain.
Expanding your vocabulary: It activates the visual and auditory processes as well as memory processing.
Creating craftwork or artwork: Enhances connectivity of the brain, which can boost introspection, memory, empathy, attention, and focus.
Dancing: It is an excellent way to be active with creativity and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and increases neural connectivity.