Neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to “rewire” itself
The human brain is absolutely intricate, like a labyrinth with millions of passages. The more the scientists explore it, the more its intricacies are revealed. One of the most complicated features of the human brain is its ability to adapt to the situations we are encountering, even if that situation is one of the toughest to cope with. We are talking about a magical feature of the brain: neuroplasticity.
“Neuro- what?” you may ask. Take it easy, we are going to elaborate on the subject deeply in this article. Prepare for something beyond magic then.
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What is neuroplasticity?
As we said, neuroplasticity is a magical ability of the brain that lets the brain and the person adapt to the situation they are experiencing. This adaption is happening in our whole life, from the time we are born until the time we die. The connections between the brain cells are reorganized through a dynamic process to adapt to the new circumstances. This is what we call rewiring from this point on in this article.
In comparison with computers, the human brain is much more sophisticated. The computer can update its software, though it is unable to get a hardware update; however, the human brain is able to update even its hardware.
As we experience more and more events, more and more pathways between our brain cells change automatically. It is like the brain is rewiring itself to be up to date regarding the new situation.
Whatever happens, we learn new things. As we learn new things, we make our brain create new connections between its neurons.
This is nothing less than magic, ha?
Neuroplasticity in adults and children
Yes, neuroplasticity is different in adults and children. It changes dramatically as you grow up. Therefore, to assess its performance, you first need to know the person’s age.
Neuroplasticity in children
Children’s brains constantly change and develop. They are fast learners and as a result, the rewiring process takes place in a flash in their brains.
Every neuron in a newly born child’s brain has around 7,500 connections with other neurons. When the child is two years old, the number of connections is more than double the number of connections in an adult’s brain neurons. As the child grows up, the formation process of connections gradually slows down and a unique pattern of connections starts to form.
That is why you can see children recover from injuries or hardships much faster than grown-ups. The rate of neuroplastic growth and adaptation in children is much quicker.
Neuroplasticity in adults
No one can claim that neuroplasticity does not exist in adults, but it is true to say the feature is weaker in adults than in children. The reason for that is the fact that connection between neurons in adults’ brains have already been shaped. They are less prone to change after each event; all the same, even adults’ brains are able to rewire dramatically.
Adults’ brains are also able to reform the lost connections and rewire them thoroughly. Even in adulthood, the brain can enhance memory and adapt to the current situation.
Though the potential to rewire the brain connections is less in adults in comparison with children, they still can take advantage of this brain feature with constant endeavors and a healthy lifestyle. This way, adults can also experience positive changes in their brains, just like the younger generation.
Benefits of neuroplasticity
According to the pile of research done on neuroplasticity, the feature can have countless benefits on the human brain. Here, we are going to mention some of them:
- People can recover from brain physical damages faster
- Traumatic injuries of the brain are healed fast
- If one loses one of their abilities or functions, the feature helps them enhance another ability or function (e.g., if one of the primary senses is lost or damaged, the feature helps other senses to progress and become stronger to partially compensate for the lost sense)
- The capabilities of memory enhance fairly significantly
- The learning process takes place more effectively
- Functions are able to be rewired in the brain (e.g., if an area in the brain that is responsible for one sense no longer works, other areas in the brain can take the responsibility on behalf of the damaged area)
- Enhances cognitive abilities to a wide range
As you can see, there are substantial benefits to neuroplasticity in the brain. Thus, you may now ask if there is a way to improve this feature. The answer is yes, you can rewire your brain connections using neuroplasticity. Read on to know the methods.
Methods to rewire the brain with neuroplasticity
You can practice enhancing neuroplasticity in your brain. There are a few methods on this. The studies conducted in this field have shown these methods to be effective.
Fasting can increase synaptic adaptation, enhance cognitive abilities, improve the growth of neurons, and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Training memory can prevent it from the loss due to aging. It can also enhance the connectivity in the prefrontal parietal network.
By traveling, you let your brain encounter new environments, hence generating new pathways and activities inside its structure.
Reading also increases the connectivity in the brain and allows it to enhance its connections.
Dancing shrinks the probability of Alzheimer’s disease and betters the neural connectivity.
Sleeping helps information transfer across the cells in the brain. It encourages learning retention through the growth of dendritic spines acting as connections between neurons.
Creating artwork can improve the connectivity of the brain at rest. It can boost introspection, empathy, memory, attention, and focus.
Expanding your range of vocabulary can lead to the activation of the visual and auditory processes and enhances the processing speed of memory.
Listening to music and learning a new musical instrument may help the brain create new connections between its different areas and expand its neural network.
You can use all of the methods above to enhance the neuroplasticity of your brain. These methods not only are soothing but they also help your brain create new wires between the neurons in all of its regions.
Recovering the brain after traumatic injuries with neuroplasticity
Scientists have investigated the changes in the brains of those who suffered serious traumatic injuries to gain precious information about neuroplasticity and how it helps the brain to recover after vital incidents.
Investigating the patients, scientists noticed that some have been able to recover to a great extent after experiencing severe damages to their brains. They first wondered what might describe the reason for this result. We now know that the reason for that is neuroplasticity. In fact, neuroplasticity made that apparently impossible change, i.e. rewiring process.
After each traumatic events, neuroplasticity takes the brain through three phases:
- Immediately after the injury: during this phase, neurons start to die and the number of cortical inhibitory pathways reduces. This phase usually lasts for one to two days. Secondary neural networks that have never been used or have been seldom used, are possibly going to be uncovered during this phase.
- After a few days: these cortical pathways change their activity from inhibitory to excitatory. New synapses are formed as a result. Neurons and other cells cooperate to replace the damaged or dead cells and enhance the rate of healing.
- After a few weeks: new synapses appear constantly. The rewiring process is at its full speed. During this phase, rehabilitation and therapy help the brain learn new pathways.
At this moment, there are numerous pharmacological treatments in development aiming to help the brain recover faster with the help of neuroplasticity.
Although it is absolutely difficult for the brain to recover after a severe traumatic injury, it is paradoxically the best time to benefit from neuroplasticity; I mean, right after the injury. The reason for that is the likelihood of changing and rewiring in the brain is the highest right after the injury. The brain may significantly change, reorganize, and recover after the injury.
How neuroplasticity can help with depression and anxiety
Regarding depression, there is bad along with good news.
The bad news is that when depression causes damage to the brain, it might encourage unhealthy and maladaptive pathways and discourage healthy and adaptive ones.
The good news is that there are some treatments for depression that seem to be able to stop or even reverse the damage. The studies on neuroplasticity have confirmed that our daily behaviors can have measurable effects on brain structure and function. This can boost the process of healing and recovery after experiencing psychiatric disorders.
The same story is true for anxiety disorders too. Our brains are wonderfully able to rewire or “remodel” themselves to improve how we manage anxiety.
Neuroplasticity can be used to manage, treat, and even cure anxiety; however, it might need consuming some time and effort.
Neuroplasticity exercises for depression and anxiety
No, there are not many specifically designed neuroplasticity exercises to help recover from depression and anxiety; nevertheless, it does not mean you can do nothing about it.
There are several activities and exercises that have been considered useful for managing depression. These exercises have also been found to be able to improve neuroplasticity. Therefore, the following methods are without a doubt good exercises helping you recover faster from anxiety and depression.
- Tasks and games relevant to memory
- Yoga (or Tai Chi)
- Learning to speak in a new language
- Playing a new musical instrument
- Moderate regular exercises
- Learning a new subject, especially if it is a complicated one learned in a short period of time
- Challenging the brain with thought related activities such as crosswords and sudoku
Neuroplasticity is one of the most magical features of the human brain. It helps the brain recover, rewire, and remodel very fast after any kind of event in someone’s life. Neuroplasticity helps the brain adapt to the situation it is currently experiencing. The connections between the brain cells are constantly renewing after whatever happens, e.g. a traumatic injury, depression, anxiety, etc. If it was not for neuroplasticity, no one could recover from all the harshest incidents in their lives.
Neuroplasticity is different in children and adults. The rate at which neuroplasticity helps children rewire their brain is much faster than adults. That is simply because children’s brains are fresher and can better create connections between their cells and neurons.
There are many benefits to neuroplasticity. People can, with it, recover quickly from brain physical damages. They can heal faster after traumatic injuries. It helps memory and cognitive abilities enhance. Additionally, neuroplasticity helps the human senses function better.
People can use some methods to rewire their brains with neuroplasticity. The methods include fasting, using mnemonic devices, traveling, reading, dancing, sleeping, art, music, etc.
Neuroplasticity can be used to recover from depression and anxiety very well. It helps the brain remodel itself and manage, treat, and even cure depression and anxiety. There are even exercises to help boost the process, such as yoga, learning new languages, juggling, playing challenging games such as sudoku and crosswords, playing musical instruments, etc.
About Sanan Sanani
Co-founder and CEO of Sanani Holding Ltd and Sterling Property Advisors.
Sanan Sanani is an entrepreneur, a savvy businessman and self-proclaimed workaholic who loves to stay busy and make clients happy.