Submitted by: HansonHouse Members

May 31, 2022

What is neuroplasticity and how can it help with traumatic brain injury recovery?  In the past, scientists and researchers believed the adult brain would remain unchanged after full development.  We are now beginning to realize how “changeable” the brain can be.  In the simplest terms, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change itself.  Pathways can be rerouted, new skills can be learned, and old habits can be un-learned.  Traumatic brain injury patients can expect a long road of recovery but now thanks to the emerging research on neuroplasticity, the outcomes of regaining function and improving quality of life are more and more promising.

Traumatic injury can cause neuronal (brain cell) death and disruption of important neural circuits in the affected areas.  Over the course of months after an injury, the healing mechanisms of the brain can restore the patient to a certain level of functional recovery. The key to recovery above and beyond minimal is creating new neuronal pathways and continuing to reinforce them.  It takes repetition of a new skill to form and solidify the new pathways.  Neuroplasticity is also a way anyone can learn something new or change their way of thinking.  Anyone can do it!  Here are a few examples of ways to enhance neuroplasticity:

Brain Workouts

       Having new experiences

        Linking a new experience to an emotion

        Exercising the body and mind

        Omega 3 fatty Acid consumption

        Focusing attention on what you want, not what you don’t want

        Repetition, repetition, repetition

The reason repetition is necessary is explained by the principal neurons (brain cells) that fire together wire together.  The more you engage in an activity the more consistently the neurons make a connection and form a new pathway or reinforce unused healthy pathways.  If there is an old pathway that is not being used anymore, it disconnects and no longer becomes the default.  Repeating the desired outcome is key!

One of the most exciting findings in neuroplasticity is that you don’t even need to be doing the actual activity to reap the benefits.  Studies have shown that people who imagine they are practicing a piece of music for piano will be able to play it better than those who did not imagine the practice.  Another study measured finger muscle strength in a group of participants.  There was a group who, after being measured for baseline results, were told to mentally practice the exercises and imagine their fingers getting stronger.  The other group did not do exercises at all.  When the groups were measured again, the group who had done the mental practice showed increases in strength without ever moving their fingers!

Neuroplasticity is an exciting new field of science and when applied to traumatic brain injury recovery it could mean the difference between minimal improvement and living a life beyond what was previously thought possible. Mechanisms of neural plasticity following brain injury. Wieloch, Nikolich. 2006.,Anatomical%2FStructural%20changes Neurological Wellness Institute The effect of mental practice on music memorization.  Psychology of music. 2021. From mental power to muscle power – gaining strength by using the mind

Submitted by Hayley Ferut RN, BSN, IBCLC