Neuroplasticity is a term to describe the ability of the brain to change. Quite a simple premise? The ability of the brain to change is actually seen as a modern avenue of science and medicine. This is where I believe that most opportunities for improvement in Charlie lay.
Neuroplasticity is basically adaptation- it alludes to the idea ‘practice makes permanent’ or ‘use it or lose it’. The brain is a complex bundle of neurons and synapses- the links between them are what we take for granted.
The brain in medicine is often looked at as a mechanism- predictable, static and irreparable. This metaphor I believe is incorrect and leads to a false sense of deflation. The brain is a dynamic, changing ORGANISM that adapts with use and non-use. This is where neuroplasticity comes into play.
You maybe aware that some parts of the brain are used for certain functions; like the cerebellum for motor control, the pre-frontal cortex for decision making, the broca area for speech. This idea of placing brain function is known as locationism- it is a predominantly accepted idea that is taught in medical schools. The problem is… it is probably not completely true! If the brain is stroke damaged in one area and yet a patient regains an amount of their previous function, what is happening? If the brocas area is damaged, how can we re-learn speech? Locationism says we can’t but we can see in practice that an individual after a stroke can relearn; it may take time and it might be jumbled but it happens. So what is going on? It is likely that other parts of the brain are reorganising and changing to make up a deficit- this is neuroplasticity.
In a child with brain-injury (or anyone for that matter) some of the links may not have developed or have become disconnected. The idea of neuroplasticity is to provide the brain with sensory input so to stimulate new neuronal activity- so as not to learn non-use. The more areas of the brain are able to ‘associate’ (learn to match) the better the response to the stimulus. It doesn’t matter what the stimulus is, be it light, sound, vibration or touch- the stimulus used in the right way can help the brain re-establish connections and ‘re-route’ around damaged areas. It may be that certain routes are not available so there is not one right answer. There is increasing literature and exposure to the subject, please see the Resource page for links to some books on the subject.
Most of the onward journey will be regarding neuroplasticity and those therapies that try to rein its potential…