Friday, February 27, 2009

Neuroplasticity

Probably one of the most important books I've read recently is "The Brain that Changes itself" by Norman Doidge. The book looks at a number of medical professionals who have worked with the idea of neuroplasticity in a variety of circumstances.

In it I found a very clear explanation of why I managed to overcome the effects of MS by reprogramming my neural networks to bypass the "broken bits".
Many years ago it was believed that once the brain was damaged it could not be repaired, but now we know that the brain, by its very function, is a dynamically changing organ. There is one example in the book of a woman who was born with only one hemisphere in her brain and the other side took over the functions of the missing half.
The book is well worth reading.

7 comments:

smashedpea said...

Hi Lena,

I'm here via Google Alerts - and I looooove that book, too! Based on what I've learned from it and other research on neuroplasticity I've done because of it, I'm pretty sure that I've figured out some neuroplasticity at work in me as well (brain tumour-related, not MS).

It's totally fascinating to me, and it's sort of become my newest favourite subjects :)

Hope everything continues to go well for you!

Lena said...

Hi Smashedpea,

It's nice to hear from someone who's also discovered the wonders of neuroplasticity. It opens up a whole world of possibilities, doesn't it?

I hope everything continues to go well for you too.

KB said...

Hello Lena .. a friend of mine in Melbourne told me a couple of days ago about the "carnival of MS bloggers" website - suggesting I should ask to list my blog on it (www.kensmsrecovery.com, which I started recently). I have been working thru some of the blogs on that list and have just read yours. Good stuff in general, and in particular I read Norman Doidge's book recently and see great merit in neuroplasticity (but I need to do more in practice in that regard). All the best with your own recovery, KB

Lena said...

Thanks KB.

Neuroplasticity is amazing - I heard Norman Doidge in an interview saying that "The brain is not the same NOW as it is (short pause) NOW." Our thoughts move quickly and the brain changes constantly according to our thoughts.

It used to be thought that certain parts of the brain are responsible for particular functions but now it's well-known that the brain functions are interchangeabe between sections of the brain. How amazing is that?!

So swapping the function of walking from one pathway to another ought to be easy. I guess you just need to work out a way to tell the brain that's what you want to do. When I successfully did this with ice skating I didn't know that's what I was doing. All I knew was that it worked for me.

Best wishes for your recovery KB.

Lena said...

PS. I made it sound like it's no problem to change pathways for a particular function in my last comment, but that's not exactly true. It's easy in the sense that it's possible, but it's hard in the sense that it takes A LOT of repetition to take effect.

The first time you do something differently the brain has to work out how to do it the new way, and that's not too difficult for an amazing piece of equipment as the brain is. But you have to repeat the action many, many times for it to become the brain's new habit, and that's the trick.

Now that I can actually skate (rather than just drag myself around the edge of the rink) I practise, practise, practise particular techniques until they become automatic. If I just lapse into comfortable ways of doing things I become frustrated with lack of progress after a while. I still have a lot to aim for so I won't run out of things to work on.

Marge Falendysz said...

Lena,

I was searching for articles on Neuroplasticity and MS and I came across your site. I have had MS for 40+ years. I am 55 and was diagnosed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN at the very young age of 12. I have had Relapsing remitting MS for most of that time. I visited the TAUB therapy Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama for three weeks of Neuroplasticity training. Dr. Edward Taub is in Doidge's book. (Yes he is still alive and practicing at 83!) It is amazing how it works. When I started I walked in using two canes; when I left 3 weeks later I was actually playing kickball with my therapist (no canes at all).

That was 1/28/13 through 2/15/2013. The most important point here is "use it or lose it". Now having said that, lets talk about what happens when you go home and back to work and your life. I have lost a lot of what I gained in that 3 weeks, because the stress of working full time and often overtime, makes it nearly impossible to keep up with the therapy and still have enough energy to get back to work the next day. It is for this reason, that I finally quit work and started working on myself. My MS has progressed to secondary progressive and I am not willing to let it get any worse. I know Neuroplasticity works if you stay with it long enough to retrain your brain. 3 weeks is long enough to make it work, but not long enough for the brain to 'remember' what you are trying to retrain it to do. Neuroplasticity works, but it needs to be done long enough to build new pathways in the brain to replace the old ones permanently, and anyone who has had this disease long enough knows that nerves are the slowest part of the body to heal or regenerate. Thank you for this blog. I want all MS patients to know about Neuroplasticity. It is changing everything we ever knew about medicine. Thanks, Marge F - Chicago

Lena said...

Hi Marge,

Thank you for your input. Well done with your work with Taub!
It's fabulous that you now have personal proof about the power of brain training.

Brain plasticity is about the "real estate" that's used by the activity happening at any given moment. This means that whatever you're focussed on will take up any available space. the longer you focus on it the more space it uses.

This means that the areas of your brain that you activated and used in your brain training with Taub were later encroached upon by the stress of working.

I think it's good that you've decided to quit work and focus on yourself and recovering what you now know is possible.

Well done you and keep up the good work!

Lena