You may have never heard of neuroplasticity and it may seem like a somewhat complicated concept at first glance, but read on: it’s key to our development and the changes we experience from birth.
We refer to neuroplasticity as the extraordinary ability of our thinking organ to change its structure and reconfigure functionally and physically in response to environmental stimuli, behavioral experiences, or cognitive demands. In short, the conditions in which we live.
This is mainly possible thanks to the generation and control of the number of neurons, the migration of these nerve cells and the formation of new connections.
after a heart attack
To better understand this, let’s think of a person who has suffered a brain injury. It can be the result of a tumour, a head injury or, most commonly, a cerebrovascular accident (ectus). The latter occurs when an artery supplying our brain ruptures and blood occupies a space that does not belong to it (hemorrhagic stroke). or when an artery becomes clogged and blood flow cannot reach the areas of the brain for which it is intended.
Stroke has serious consequences for the brain and the lives of those who suffer it. This can include activities such as walking, waving hands, talking, remembering what we did yesterday, or putting ourselves in someone else’s place. In short, thanks to everything we do every day for the proper functioning of this exciting organ.
At that point, the brain undergoes sudden changes and the affected areas stop functioning as before. How can we try to get the patient to walk, talk, or control his mood? Thanks to the fact that the brain, just as it is affected and modified suddenly, is also capable of readjusting and changing in a directed and effortful way.
in search of the lost language
Recent studies have shown the effect of neuroplasticity in patients who present communication problems (aphasia) after suffering a brain injury. For most people, language is located in the left hemisphere: important areas of that half of the brain must function properly in order to understand and produce words.
When this gear is disrupted by a stroke, we must appeal to neuroplasticity if we intend to recover what has been lost. Thus, it turns out that intensive language therapy is able to restore the functioning of damaged areas of the left hemisphere and their connections. It can even cause changes in the structures of the right hemisphere, which may further aid in recovery.
power of music
If the above is already interesting, a more recent study has been able to observe the changes produced by music therapy in patients who have suffered a head injury. In his case, the injury had affected executive functions. These higher cognitive abilities allow us to achieve goals, adapt to novel situations, or manage social interactions, among other daily tasks. They include processes such as inhibition, cognitive flexibility, planning, reasoning or decision making.
The researchers confirmed that music therapy improved the affected patients’ executive functions after three months and that the changes were maintained over time. They also saw that there was a brain substrate: patients had significant changes in key areas of the frontal lobe. The prefrontal cortex, in particular, is responsible for the correct performance of these skills.
critical process in learning
But does neuroplasticity interfere with a healthy brain? Could this be the key, since we brought music, to learn to play an instrument? Yes indeed, the correct formulation would be to say that the acquisition of any new skill requires a change in our brain.
Music training has been considered an interesting modality to investigate induced neuroplasticity in the healthy brain. Although certain brain differences make it easier for some people to learn to play an instrument, longitudinal studies suggest that listening to and producing music produces functional changes in the brain’s motor network and its relationship with the auditory system.
Important changes also take place when we learn a new language. It occurs in young people as well as in adults and older people, and tends to be short term. So, as we become familiar with language, its vocabulary and grammatical structures, our brain undergoes modifications that make this possible.
special minded taxi driver
Experience is the reason for these changes to happen. A classic study showed that London taxi drivers, experts at memorizing city routes and driving fast on the streets, had higher-than-normal volumes in certain areas of the hippocampus. This brain region, related to the limbic system and located in our temporal lobe, is strongly linked to our memory; Specifically, for our spatial memory and our ability to orientate.
Even more interesting, one study compared taxi drivers with bus drivers (who repeat the same route) and only the former had these differences in the hippocampus. This rule out suggests that it could be due to other variables, such as different driving abilities or the stress that this job entails.
The brain is the part of our body that makes everything we do possible. Fortunately, thanks to neuroplasticity we can change, grow and progress. We shouldn’t wait for something to happen without time and effort, but it is clear that our mind will be responsible for helping us achieve many of the things we set out to do.