Historically, we have accepted the fact that the brain reaches a stage of development and then stops. This thinking was extremely disappointing because it appeared that we could no longer change the nature of our brains. Following this concept became disappointing for those who had brain injury (or any other brain development issues), because it seemed there was no hope. Now, research tells us differently.
Capacity for the brain to change at any age
The official term for the brain’s capacity to change is neuroplasticity and research on how the brain can actually change at almost any age is just fascinating.
Below is “What is Neuroplasticity,” a brief article from a website by the same name.
How would you like to be better at problem solving, learning a new language, increasing your ability to focus, regaining body function due to a stroke, or recapturing some lost brain function from a brain trauma such as an auto accident? Your mind is very capable of creating these incredible lasting changes in function from neuroplasticity shaping techniques.
The term Neuroplasticity is derived from the root words Neuron and Plastic. A neuron refers to the nerve cells in our brain. Each individual neural cell is made up of an axon, dendrites, and is linked to one another by a small space called the synapses. The word plastic means to mold, sculpt, or modify. Neuroplasticity refers to the potential that the brain has to reorganize by creating new neural pathways to adapt, as it needs.
Think of the neurological changes being made in the brain as the brain’s way of tuning itself to meet your needs. A simple way to consider how the brain builds new neural pathways as it’s challenged by new information and it’s environment might be to think of the brain as a radio. When dialing the tuning knob on the radio by hand to find something to listen to, you might come across a station that sounds interesting but has a great deal of static; so, you can’t really understand everything they are saying.
To bring the station in clearer, you would focus and dial the station in slowly a digit at a time to bring it in with as little distortion as possible. You can think of building new neural pathways the same way when learning something new. The more you focus and practice something, the better you become at the new skill that you are learning or an obstacle you are trying to overcome. By doing this new neural connections are created in the brain as synapses that don’t usually fire together do, which help us to sharpen our new skill.
Focusing to tune in new neural pathways
It was believed until recently that the human brain, which consists of around 100 billion neural cells, could not generate new ones (the generation of new neurons is also known as neurogenesis).
The old model assumed that each of us was born with a finite number of neural cells and when a cell died no new cell could grow. This old model of the brain’s inability to regenerate new nerve cells is no longer relevant. It has been proven that certain areas in the brain can generate fresh cells. This new understanding of neural cell generation is an incredible discovery.
Another misconception was that the brain had an inability to create new neural pathways. It was once believed that the human brain had a relatively small window to develop new pathways in our life span, then after that the pathways became immutable. This old theory thought our ability to generate new pathways dropped off sharply around the age of 20, and then became permanently fixed around the age of 40.
New studies have shown through the use PET, and MRI brain scanning technology, that new neural cells are generated throughout life as well as new neural pathways. Even the elderly are capable of creating measurable changes in brain organization. These changes are not always easy but can happen through concerted focus on a defect area.
This information may be a bit technical
However, the reality is that changing a brain defect or an inability to concentrate or learn can be remediated at almost any age. Neuroplasticity is truly a gift in that we know that whatever happens to us emotionally or physically, change is possible in our brains.
So please do not give up on those whom you know who may be struggling. They can change, recover, and heal due to our brains’ neuroplasticity.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network