Understanding how to use neuroplasticity to remodel the brain structure and function

Neuroplasticity Key Points

The Definition Of Neuroplasticity

Going straight to the point, neuroplasticity is a physiological change in the brain. This is due to our different experiences and interactions with the environment. This way, we can say that there is a reorganization of the cells as a response to our changing needs.

Analyzing the brain, we can conclude that it forms different pathways related to our experiences. So, each new chosen phase of our lives creates new pathways which remain for a while. This happens like a cycle. For this reason, learning new things is the best way to create connections between our neurons. These links rewire our brains so that it can adjust to new circumstances. In addition, it helps our brain keep healthy and active. After all, we cannot forget that our brain is like our body, it needs exercise. 

The Linking Between Neuroplasticity And Neurogenesis

Thinking carefully about the word “Neurogenesis”, it refers to neuron and genesis. Explaining the first term, neuron, it means “nerve cell”, whereas the second one, “creation of”. Thus, every time you hear about neurogenesis, it means the creation of new nerve cells.

In essence, what the neurons do is coordinate our body, telling it what to do. As can be seen, it’s understandable that neurogenesis relates to learning, memory and movement. So, typical examples are swimming, walking and reading. And in order to practice these things there must be an electrical or chemical interaction between them. Then, this physical response has to do with neuroplasticity.

Interpreting The Term From A Psychological Perspective

Analyzing it from a psychological point of view, neuroplasticity creates a new direction for us. That is to say that one individual can overcome self-limiting thoughts by adopting a new attitude towards life. Therefore, this means that we have total control over thought patterns which hold us back. Unquestionably, there is no way for fear, insecurity, anxiety, stress and unpleasant experiences . But for better results it’s necessary that the person get out of the comfort zone.

Hence, an effective way to shift thought patterns is through simple daily activities. It´s clear that they improve our brain structure, but it calls for learning and discipline.

Learning Contributes To Our Brain Arrangements

Overall, the lessons we learn establish new pathways in our brain. So, this is new organization is a blessing, as each new skill has the ability to connect new neurons. Consequently, this powerful connection shifts our brain’s default mode of operation.

First and foremost, it´s important to realize that it´s not all learning which uses neuroplasticity of the brain. However, if you consider learning a new language or a musical instrument, it can definitely rewire your brain.

Personal Development And Neuroplasticity

We, human beings, are powerful beyond measure. So, it´s true that our power of adaptability to different kinds of situations and circumstances is amazing. Additionally, we can mold and shape our reality according to our desires. With this intention, we can develop new skills. Even more, become expert at something through sustained effort. Therefore, a mindset focused towards improvements and personal development is everything. In view of this the topic goes deep into the analysis.

Can Age Be A Bad Influence On Neuroplasticity?

There´s no denying the fact that age affects neuroplasticity, but it happens to a certain extent.

Neuroplasticity – How does it work in Kids?

It´s a fact that children’s brains are open to development. Because of this, they are continually growing and evolving. Thus, different experiences provide the brains with a new structure and arrangement.

According to studies, there are four types of neuroplasticity in children:

  1. Adaptive: changes occurring in the brain, allowing it to adjust to structural and operational changes (like injuries). They occur when children practice a special skill.
  2. Impaired: changes happening as the result of genetic or acquired disorders.
  3. Excessive: the formation of new, unsuitable pathways which can cause disability or disorders.
  4. Plasticity that makes the brain vulnerable to injury: the establishment of harmful neuronal pathways, making the injury more likely or impactful (Mundkur, 2005).

It has been noted that these processes are intense and more noticeable in young children. Owing to this, they get over from injury much more effectively, if compared to adults. Given these points, cases of neuroplastic growth, recovery and adaptation are not a surprise to happen in children.

Neuroplasticity – How does it work in Adults?

Although this ability is not strong in adults, the adult brain is still capable of incredible change. So, it can get back old, lost connections and arrangements which have not been used in some time. Moreover, it can even improve memory and cognitive skills. Surely, a heathy lifestyle and dedicated effort are the key ingredients which collaborate a great deal to a successful change. 

Positive Effects of Neuroplasticity On The Brain

Below are some ways the human being brain can benefit from brain adaptation:

– A successful learning

– Wide range of improved cognitve abilities

– An improvement on memory abilities

– Recovery from brain injuries and events (e.g. strokes)

– Other areas of the brain may take control when certain area is damaged. To put it differently, this is what we call “brain rewiring”.

At the end of the day, there is a way of using neuroplasticity in our favor.  

Some Tips On How to Rewire Your Brain

For us to understand it better, below are some scientifically proven methods which improve or trigger neuroplasticity:

  • Intermittent fasting: increases synaptic adaptation, promotes neuron growth, improve overall cognitive function, and decreases the risk of neurodegenerative disease.
  • Traveling and expanding horizons: sets your brain to a novel stimuli and new environments state. As a result, it creates new pathways and activity in it.
  • The Use of Mnemonic devices: memory training is a great way of improving connectivity in the prefrontal parietal network. This exercise leads to preventing some age-related memory loss.
  • Learning a musical instrument: helps to create new neural networks. Similarly, it allows a rise in connectivity between brain regions.
  • Non-dominant hand exercises: creates new neural pathways and makes the connectivity between neurons stronger.
  • Reading fiction: causes an increase in connectivity in the brain, resulting in better performance.
  • Expanding your vocabulary: enables the visual and auditory processes as well as memory processing.
  • Artwork creation: allows an improved connectivity of the brain “default mode network”. Then, it helps to trigger introspection, memory, empathy, attention, and focus.
  • Dancing: reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease a great deal and boosts neural connectivity.
  • Sleeping: stimulates learning retention through the growth of the dendritic spines. This construction makes them act as connections between neurons, helping transfer information across cells (Nguyen, 2016).

Brain Healing After Trauma

Researchers have been observing changes in the brains of those who suffered serious trauma. Thus, scientists concluded that some patients with extensive damage to the brain were able to recover to an amazing degree thanks to neuroplasticity.

Su, Veeravagu, and Grant (2016) have shown that three phases of neuroplasticity after trauma occur:

  1. Immediately after the injury, neurons begin to die and cortical inhibitory pathways decrease. This phase lasts one to two days. Moreover, it may uncover secondary neural networks that have never or rarely been used.
  2. After a few days, the activity of these cortical pathways changes from inhibitory to excitatory. This reaction creates new synapses. In addition, both neurons and other cells replace the damaged or dead cells, facilitating healing.
  3. After a few weeks, new synapses continue to appear. At this point, the “remodeling” of the brain is in full swing. This is the time when rehabilitation and therapy can help the brain to learn some helpful new pathways.

Without a doubt, post-injury and trauma are the best times for brain recovery. In such circumstances, it makes use of its neuroplastic abilities. To put it differently, it becomes more capable of making significant changes, reorganizing, and recovering (Su, Veeravagu, & Grant, 2016).

Stroke Recovery Through Neuroplasticity Rehabilitation

Those recovering from strokes have been the object of neuroplasticity studies. And we all know that strokes often leave patients with brain damage, ranging from moderate to severe. However, there have been incredible recovery cases from stroke patients.

Experts explain that the best alternative to encourage neuroplasticity in stroke recovery is to apply two important techniques:

  1. Task repetition
  2. Task-specific practice

Going further into detail, we can say that learning a new activity (or re-learning an old one) through specific, regular practice can result in significant changes in the brain. Considering that repetition and specific practice tasks are not effective to make you learn anything, it’s undeniable that you’ll learn a lot. So, this indicates that improvements in one area can often spill over into improvements in other abilities.

How Neuroplasticity Can Deal With Depression

The linking between neuroplasticity and depression has both good and bad news.

The bad news is concerning psychiatric disorders, because it’s a rather negative neuroplasticity. Depression can be harmful to the brain, encouraging maladaptive pathways. This results in discouraging healthy and adaptive pathways (Hellerstein, 2011).

Now, the good news is that some treatments for depression can halt the damage and even reverse it. And what is awesome is that “your day-to-day behaviors can have measurable on brain structure and function.” In truth, they can offer you better healing and recovery from psychiatric disorders (Hellerstein, 2011).

Although it may seem strange, we have the ability to “reshape” our brains at any age. So, a new attitude towards life leads your brain to unbelievable results. But to get that target, determination and preventive action are of paramount importance.

How Neuroplasticity Can Deal With Anxiety

 “The development of these parts of our brain that effortlessly trigger anxiety, it is at the detriment of the ones that aid calmness & confidence… it is not enough to just stop anxiety in any given moment which is often people’s focus. The anxiety wiring is still there and waiting to be triggered. We need to create competitive wiring. We need to create specific wiring of what we want to achieve which is ‘competitive wiring’ to the problem. Without this we loop endlessly in anxiety with no neural pathway to take us forward.” (Ian Cleary – 2015)

As related by life coach and clinician Ian Cleary, anxiety disorders treatment requires time, effort and commitment. But to make it happen a new perception needs to take place. In order to achieve it, there must be permanent brain changes first. For this reason, it’s necessary adaptation and a change in thought patterns. With that in mind, activities such as recall and memory patterning, breathing exercises, eye patterning, modifying postural habits, increasing body awareness, and targeting sensory perception are the key elements for that goal (Cleary, 2015).

Neuroplasticity Activities for Anxiety and Depression

There are some traditional activities which are efficient towards improving neuroplasticiy. So, if you have anxiety or depression, you can learn and practice exercises as follows:

  • Playing memory games
  • Doing tasks related to memory
  • juggling
  • playing an instrument
  • Learning a new language
  • Doing Yoga
  • working out on a daily basis 
  • Challenging your brain with activities (crosswords or sudoku)
  • Learning a new subject—especially a large and complex one in a short period of time (Hellerstein, 2011).

Neuroplasticity As A Treatment for Chronic Pain

Given that pain is a sequence of neuronal firings, neuroplasticity can play a fundamental role in its treatment. A recent study has proven that four methods can help the brain adjust and manage chronic pain:

  1. Transcranial direct current stimulation (electrodes implanted in certain areas of the brain to stimulate certain responses)
  2. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (non-invasive magnetic stimulation of the brain via a “wand” to engage specific areas)
  3. Intermittent fasting (periods of fasting followed by periods of normal food intake)
  4. Glucose administration (taking glucose supplements to replace what we lose due to normal aging; (Sibille, Fartsch, Reddy, Fillingim, & Keil, 2016)

Besides all these methods, there are other ones which should have already been incorporated in your life. In reality, they are activities which help you to become healthy.

The activities below have a powerful connection with the brain. This way, they produce an effect in the brain wiring, changing the way how it receives and translates the message of pain:

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Healthy eating
  3. Quitting smoking
  4. Keeping your mind active, engaged, and challenged
  5. Relaxation techniques to keep stress at bay
  6. Mindfulness meditation (Irving, 2016).

Therefore, what these activities do is rewire and retrain the brain, aiming at a different reaction to pain.

Neuroplasticity Therapy for ADHD, OCD, and Autism

There is no secret methodology for treatment of ADHD, OCD and autism. All the methods mentioned before are successful.

Now, take into consideration the games, activities and programs. They follow the principles of neuroplasticity. And they intensely focus on helping people and children with a wide range of issues and impairments.

Following this, the methods concentrate on techniques supported by science. They serve as a way of challenging and overcoming difficulties. Accordingly, learning new things and being open to new experiences are the roadmap. These ingredients consciously help you adapt and modify thought patterns, which are the focal point.

How Mindfulness Mediatation Influences Neuroplasticity

Mindfulness meditation has the power to bring about physical changes in the brain. In a deep analysis, becoming mindful through meditation allows the brain to adjust to this default state. In other words, meditation practitioners educate their brain to be calm and at peace all through the day. This mindful behavior makes them alert of their feelings even when they are not meditating.

Music And the Brain

As well as being fun and giving you a good mood, listening to music can also collaborate with functional changes to the brain.

The description below will summarize everything you need to know about the positive effects that music has on a person’s life:

“…[S]everal forms of intensive training have an impact on brain and cognition, but it is possible that musical training has specific effects that other forms of training do not have, or even produces a range of different effects… [The] cognitive enhancement effects of musical training, the result of neuroplastic processes, might be due to a combination of skills required by music study, such as decoding visual information into motor activity, memorizing extended passages of music, learning music structures and rules, learning to make fine auditory spectral and temporal discriminations and learning to perform skilled bimanual finger movements.” (Rodrigues, Loureiro, & Caramelli, 2010, p. 284).

Researches have discovered that music has a tremendous influence on a person’s life. Be it through musical training or listening to it and appreciating it. What music fundamentally does is help the brain improve its innate neuroplasticity. What is more, it makes your abilities and cognitive skills better.   

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