For many years we were led to believe that the brain was limited to how many connections it could make and what information it could hold, and that after a certain age, our brains are fully formed, with no extra materials left over. This could not be farther from the truth.
Fortunately for us, the brain has the ability to undergo biological changes. It can rebuild individual neurons at a cellular level as well as rewiring entire regions, this is known as ‘neuroplasticity’.
Structural plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to alter its neuronal connections. Our brain’s are producing new neurons constantly which are incorporated into the central nervous system throughout ones life.
Functional plasticity is the brain’s ability to modify and adapt the functional properties of its neurons.
These changes could be the result of activities done to acquire memory , such as when we take in the information needed to perform a new task, for instance, playing a new instrument. This is a phenomenon known as ‘activity dependent plasticity’ , or it could be to retrieve memories following the destruction of neurons, known as ‘reactive plasticity’, such as when an individual recovers from a stroke and needs to relearn basic motor skills.
Our brain’s are constantly being shaped by experience. With every repetition of a thought or emotion, we reinforce a neural pathway. Small changes repeated frequently, lead to changes in how our brain’s work. Connections within the brain are constantly becoming stronger or weaker, depending on what is being used.
In recent years fundamental properties related to plasticity of connectivity maps in the brain have been revealed. It has been widely accepted that, following brain structural damage, both connectivity maps and behavioral skills can be partially restored through intense practice and rehabilitation.
This means that the future for people recovering from strokes and brain injuries is more optimistic than it has ever been.
For more information on Neuroplasticity: