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Neuroplasticity is a complicated process that happens in the brain. To understand neuroplasticity, you need to know how the brain works. You also need to understand how the human brain works during everyday activities and after a stroke.

The brain is the control center of everything you do. It controls your emotions, how you learn new information, and how you interact socially with other people. The brain carries out its functions by communicating messages between millions of neurons. Neurons are nerve cells that transmit messages in electric pulses to each other and the rest of the brain.

These electric signals travel between neurons at incredible speeds. The speed at which these signals travel is affected if neurons are broken, damaged, or in some way not working correctly.

Scientists use plasticity when referring to this process where neurons change their connections with other neurons to adapt to different behaviours or conditions.

Brain Plasticity

Brain plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This reorganizing occurs as a response to things

in a person’s environment, including learning something new or experiencing an injury such as a stroke.

After a stroke, the damaged brain’s neuron area no longer sends regular messages. The brain’s neurons communicate with each other during everyday life via neurotransmitters, which transmit information back and forth. This neuron communication allows us to feel everything from breathing, seeing, tasting, and moving to emotions like happiness, sadness, and love. It also enables us to acquire new abilities such as playing tennis or speaking a new language.

Neuroplasticity is the process where our neurons communicate with each other. This transmission happens by sending information through special channels called neural pathways.

These pathways are like the “highways” of our brain, allowing critical information to travel quickly from one part of the brain or body to another. Our experiences and what we learn throughout our lives shape these connections.

This process of brain development is how we acquire new skills and impact our moods, memories, thoughts, and behaviours. The neurons in the affected side of our brain become damaged after a stroke. If one hemisphere of the brain is damaged, nearby neurons adapt and do some of the work the other hemisphere does. This impairment may cause changes in speech, mobility, and memory.

Damaged Brain Cells

Brain cells that are damaged cannot communicate with each other well. Neuroplasticity allows these broken connections to repair through retraining and rewiring themselves.

After a stroke, specific neurons may start working together to compensate for the damaged cells to maintain healthy brain function. This brain activity is where the term “rewiring” comes from when describing neuroplasticity.

A stroke is the death of neurons or brain cells that causes a loss of brain function. A single stroke can cause damage to an area as small as one-tenth of a cubic centimetre, which equates to losing as much as 10% of the entire affected side of your brain. These damaged cells cannot communicate and may eventually die, causing permanent damage.

Strokes are traumatic brain injuries. A traumatic brain injury can enormously impact our lives because it interrupts the flow of vital information needed to move, think, feel, speak, and remember certain things. A stroke hinders normal brain development. A stroke is one of the leading causes of long-term disability in adults in North America.

The Brain’s Ability to Change

Brain Change

Brain Change word cloud on a white background.

While the ability of the brain to change itself is now well-known and accepted by neuroscientists, it is still a recent discovery in neuroscience. Some scientists even refer to it as the “Cinderella” of brain science because for such a long time (up until 1999), scientists believed that once our brain reached adulthood, it could not grow new neurons or create new neural pathways. This assumption could not be further from the truth.

As neuroscience research on living brains progressed, scientists discovered that the brain could reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. The brain develops new neural connections and eliminates existing ones in response to learning and practicing new abilities, sometimes known as “neuroplasticity.” This brain plasticity is how we adapt to our surroundings; it allows us to learn new things, modify habits, and recover from brain damage like a stroke.

The ability of the brain to reorganize itself after a stroke is one of neuroscience’s most fascinating phenomena. It indicates that the brain is still active and changing throughout our lives, contrary to widely held beliefs.

Neurons can connect more quickly because neurons are no longer as specialized as previously thought following a stroke. Because the brain can create new neural connections following a stroke, many people experience outstanding recoveries, allowing them to regain speech, mobility, and memory – something previously believed impossible.

Neuroplasticity Research

Neuroplasticity has helped researchers understand learning challenges better, like dyslexia. It turns out that brains wired differently are not that unusual. Scientists now know that it is normal for people to have continual brain rewiring. This process makes us unique and special.

While neuroplasticity is a fantastic process that shows how adaptable our brains are, it is also important to remember that it takes time – especially when learning a new skill. The most significant advances in neural connections occur when learning happens, not after acquiring a new skill or finishing school.

Just because you were not born with the gift of natural grace does not mean that you will never be able to play an instrument or speak eloquently – it just means that your brain needs time and practice to get there.

You can teach an old dog new tricks. The fact is that old dogs can learn if the dog is motivated enough to do so by their environment and individual desire. If your brain could develop the neural pathways that allowed you to walk or talk as a small child, it can also create the necessary paths to learn how to speak French or play the guitar.

Conclusion

It is important to note that neuroplasticity is an incredible phenomenon, although there is no guarantee that your brain will rewire itself in your desired way!

It is empowering to live your life assuming that your brain can change and reorganize. If you or a loved one has recently experienced a stroke, take heart in knowing your brain will adapt itself to help mitigate your symptoms and get you back to what matters most – living your best life!

Additional Resources

National Library of Medicine article research article on neuroplasticity.

Wikipedia resource page on neuroplasticity.

About the Author

Alex Bergin PT  is a certified physiotherapist and one of the owners of Bergin Motion. Bergin Motion is a family-run Barrie Physiotherapy Clinic located in Barrie’s Southend. Alex specializes in acquired brain injury rehabilitation. Alex is a certified NDT practitioner. Neuro Development Therapy is a specialized hands-on treatment technique that promotes mobility, balance, core strength and gross motor skills in a playful and fun and dynamic way. Alex is part of a team at Bergin Motion in Barrie, Ontario that works with all kinds of neurological issues.

About Bergin Motion

Barrie Ontario Physiotherapy

Bergin Motion is a Barrie Physiotherapy Clinic. Bergin Motion offers physiotherapy in Barrie to clients with a wide range of conditions.

The clinic in Barrie specializes in orthopedic, neurological, and pelvic health disciplines.

Bergin Motion treats clients both at their clinic and in the comfort of their own home if they cannot travel to the clinic.

Located in the south end of Barrie, Ontario, the physio clinic boasts 9000 sq. ft., with seven treatment rooms and a fully equipped gym.