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Monthly Archives: July 2018

Continuing The Series On Brain Plasticity By Guest Author Anna Kucirkova

Ways To Harness Plasticity

harness plasticity

With the right circumstances, the power of brain plasticity can help adult minds grow. Although certain brain functions decay with age, people can tap into plasticity and refresh the brain.

Targeted brain plasticity exercises help to keep our brains fit. Even those suffering from brain damage may be able to retrain their brains for better function. The key is identifying what brain functions to target and how to best exercise them.

Researchers suggest that there are various methods of harnessing brain plasticity:

Intermittent Fasting

The Society for Neuroscience suggests that fasting increases synaptic plasticity, decreases risk of neurodegenerative diseases, promotes neuron growth and improves cognitive function. When you fast, a metabolic shift reduces the body’s leptin levels. Thus, the brain receives a chemical signal for neurons to produce more energy.

Travel

Traveling encourages neurogenesis by exposing your brain to new, fresh, and complex environments. Paul Nussbaum, a neuropsychologist from the University of Pittsburgh explains, “Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites.” And a week-long tour of another country isn’t necessary to get this benefit; take a weekend road trip to a different city.

Use Mnemonic Devices

Memory training promotes connectivity in your brain’s prefrontal parietal network and can slow memory loss with age. Mnemonic devices combine visualization, imagery, spatial navigation, and rhythm and melody, so they can reach various parts of the brain simultaneously.

Learn an Instrument

Musicians’ brains show sharp connectivity between brain areas. Neuroscientists explain that the multi-sensory experience of playing a musical instrument allows for the association of motor actions with specific sounds, and memorizing visual patterns leads to new neural networks being formed. As you practice a new instrument, the repetition will allow for neuroplasticity to do its work.

Non-Dominant Hand Exercises

Using your non-dominant hand during routine tasks can help form new neural pathways. Doing this strengthens connectivity between your brain cells. Studies also show that non-dominant hand activities improve emotional health and impulse control. Try switching hands during some simple tasks and give your brain a test.

Read Fiction

Studies show increased and ongoing connectivity in the brains of participants after reading a novel. Enhanced brain activity occurred in the brain area that controls physical sensations and movement. Scientists explain that reading a novel can be a physical transportation into the fictional world. Shifting into this mental state is crucial for learning how to have complex social relationships.

Expand your Vocabulary

When you learn new words, the brain’s visual processes, memory processes, and auditory processes activate. The smaller your vocabulary, the more likely you are to have poor cognitive skills.

Sleep

Studies show that sleep “helps learning retention with the growth of dendritic spines, the tiny protrusions that connect brain cells and facilitates the passage of information across synapses.” Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night will help the brain retain information.

Try at least one of these ways and disprove the old idea that we lose brain function as we age.  The last part of this age will be published next week.

Here is the first post by a guest author which will be a series on Brain Plasticity

This author, Anna Kucirkova, found my earlier article on adjusting to life as we mature and my reference to neuroplasticity there.  Here are the first two parts of her article on

Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, is a term used by neuroscientists that refers to the brain’s ability to change and grow at any age. This flexibility is critically important during our brain development and in shaping personalities.

Prior to the 1960s, scientists believed that changes in the brain only took place during infancy and childhood. Most believed that the brain’s physical structure was permanent by adulthood. Modern research has concluded that the brain creates new neural pathways and alters existing ones to adapt to new experiences, create new memories, and learn new information, right up until the day we die.

Psychologist William James was the first to suggest (in 1890) that the brain was not as unchanging as formerly believed. In his book The Principles of Psychology, he wrote, “Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity.” However, his idea was ignored for decades.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, researchers began to explore the creation of new neural pathways and followed cases where older adults suffering the aftermath of massive strokes were able to “regain functioning, demonstrating that the brain was much more malleable than previously believed.” Modern researchers have confirmed that the brain is able to rewire itself following damage.

Characteristics of Plasticity

brain plasticity

There are a few defining characteristics of neuroplasticity:

It varies by age. Though plasticity is present for a lifetime, certain changes are more likely during specific ages.

Plasticity involves multiple neural processes. Plasticity never stops and always involves brain cells besides neurons, like glial and vascular cells.

Plasticity happens for two different reasons.

  1.    As a result of learning, experience, and memory formation
  2.    As a result of damage to the brain.

The brain never stops changing in response to learning. In cases of damage to the brain, the areas of the brain associated with certain functions may be damaged; but, healthy parts of the brain may take over those functions and the abilities can be restored.

Environment and genetics both have an influence on plasticity. The stimulation and sensory input of the environment will have a direct effect on how the brain grows and changes. Similarly, if you have a genetic predisposition toward learning, you are more likely to take in and retain information and skills more quickly.

There are two types of neuroplasticity:

  • Functional plasticity: The brain’s ability to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas.
  • Structural plasticity: The brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.

Both types of plasticity can be harnessed to improve our brains.

This definitely blows a hole in the idea that we lose brain power over time and through injury and illness and that we can’t recover it in any way.  I soon will be publishing a new post titled, “Aging Backwards Rather Than Aging Forwards” which surprisingly I had in mind when I received the E-mail from Anna.