Brain Plasticity and Responding to Change

I listened recently to an astonishing program on ABC Radio National, The Ghost in My Brain.

As well as being a moving account of overcoming brain injury, it is also an inspiring story of techniques being used to heal brains by promoting brain plasticity. The story describes the experience of Dr Clark Elliott, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science at De Paul University in Chicago and his treatment by Donalee Markus and Deborah Zelinsky, following concussion caused in a car accident.

As Dr Elliott says, “This is not voodoo magic. There are 1,500 or 2,000 scholarly articles written about this kind of restructuring.”

A 2014 article in the Huffington Post by Edward Taub, The Plasticity of the Brain: Guiding the Damaged Brain to Recover From Injury and the Healthy Brain to Improve Itself, describes the application of therapies to conditions including stroke, cerebral palsy and patients with traumatic brain injury, as well as a range of other conditions.

“Before 1980, it was widely accepted as fact in neuroscience that the central nervous system is hardwired and fixed. The very strong belief was that after an injury in adults, such as stroke or traumatic brain injury, the brain cannot repair itself. However, over the last 20 to 30 years persuasive evidence has been accumulating rapidly that the brain is plastic throughout a person’s lifespan; in effect, the adult brain can not only be rewired, it can also be structurally remodeled.”

Dr Taub writes that he is now intending to explore how people with healthy brains can improve themselves further.

Once again, we learn that a widely held belief – in this case that the injured brain cannot heal itself – is shown to be untrue by developments in science and medicine.

Yet another illustration of the importance of keeping ourselves open to change and responding positively to new knowledge as it appears.