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Neuroplasticity

Notes from the Neuro Café 15th September 2021 by Linda S


After a brief chat about hairstyles we learned that the artist Jason Wilsher-Mills who had been scheduled to speak had sent his apologies and would join us in a few weeks' time.

We were happy to meet a new participant and everyone introduced themselves. Many LEGS people were very happy about the progress they had made since joining LEGS.

Neuroplasticity


Neuroplasticity isn't relevant to all neurological conditions. For more detailed information please see slides on the Members’ Area of LEGS website

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change in structure or function in response to experience. It is adaptation or regeneration after trauma, the ability of the central nervous system to undergo structural and functional change in response to new experiences.

The more you put in, the more you get out.

Some pathways were redundant after you were a child and you can regenerate them

We all want to see change in our everyday life e.g walking and talking.

Exercise is very important for the brain and to help aid recovery. Sensory rehab, stretches, and strengthening work are all beneficial.

After stroke you can have big acceleration and recovery if you partake in appropriate activity at the appropriate time.

How do our brains compare to computers? Our brains are extraordinary, they can receive hardware updates in addition to software updates. Other areas can learn the tasks the damaged area used to do.

Lots of areas are not used since childhood which we hope to open up again with rehab. We have pathways, which we can think of as motorways, which we are no longer able to use now but we have others, which are like 'B' road tracks that do not get used on a daily basis but are still there, and we can use them. The 'B' road becomes an 'A' road, then a dual carriageway then a motorway. It needs information/traffic for recovery.


Build experience. Do stuff outside the class. Make the B road motorways! Rewiring is important. Encourage stimulation.



The brain is not hardwired in childhood and it can and does change throughout our lives. The brain is a dynamic, connected, power grid with connections. Each time we use it we strengthen the pathways. With new tasks, new emotions or activities we carve out new roads. This way of doing becomes second nature. Old connections weaken. We can all learn and change by rewiring our brains.


There are 10 principles of neuroplasticity

  1. Use it or lose it.

  2. Use and improve it - skills get better.

  3. Specificity - practise the exact tasks you want to improve.

  4. Repetition matters but remember fatigue, do enough to get improvement e.g 300 in an hour for upper limb.

  5. Intensity matters. More reps in a shorter time for the best connection regeneration.

  6. Time matters - better to start earlier and you can reverse some of the changes even after years.

  7. Salience matters - the skill we are practising must have some meaning or importance to us. The brain needs to be an active learner.

  8. Age matters - younger brains change faster than older brains but improvement is possible at any age.

  9. Transference - practise one skill and improve in a related skill.

  10. Interference - a bad habit can make neuroplasticity slower or harder. Difficult to break that 'wrong' cycle.

Try something new!

  • Memory training

  • Learn a musical instrument

  • Non-dominant hand exercises help form new neural pathways

  • Reading fiction - can increase and enhance connectivity

  • Expanding your vocabulary

  • Creating artwork enhances connectivity

  • Dancing reduces risk of Alzheimers and increases neural connectivity

  • Sleeping encourages learning retention

  • Walking is important - It is good for your cardio vascular system, gets you out into the community.


Decompensation

  • Recovery can sometimes seem to go backwards

  • Rewiring can be not as strong as the old connections

  • Being tired or unwell or stressed can make the new connections struggle to keep up

  • Problems can reappear or get worse eg reduced foot clearance when walking or slurred speech can increase

Brain Garden


Thinking of the brain as garden, it never ceases needing attention, requiring regular "pruning" and giving newly planted things the water and nutrients they need to grow.

Old dogs can learn new tricks!Humans can adapt to environments quickly, gain knowledge and learn from fresh experiences.


The hard work can make a difference


What are LEGS participants' experience of neuroplasticity?


Summer holidays - Had got weaker from reduction in exercise, had been doing 100 sit to stands every day.


How you can see change in a small section of time is important - Ironing after stroke - repeat, repeat, repeat. Muscles respond to the repetition of a movement 300 times.


One participant could not walk after stroke. It still is difficult to walk up and down stairs but the more walking they do the more confident they feel.

Give yourself confidence. Anxiety and fearful feelings can give negative messages to the brain that can prevent learning.


One participant is still learning things after 12 years. You will get back eventually.

Remember there are peaks and troughs in learning. Mood also affects things. Many of us have experienced a traumatic event and we should not underestimate the impact the pandemic has had on our lives.


Do I have to do those exercises for the rest of my life?


Not necessarily because as you recover you will be doing new things. Transfer the exercises into the next stage and push yourself to the next level.

You are not always aware of what you can’t do. This makes recovery challenging. We need to be able to know what to do. It is challenging knowing what works and what doesn’t work.

You go to do a new task and cannot do it which is frustrating. But a few months ago you wouldn’t have been trying a new thing. Choose the things and tasks that are important to you.


Constraint induced movement therapy


This is a method of rehabilitation to increase use of weaker arm following stroke or other central nervous system damage.


It forces the brain to use the weaker arm (by using an oven glove, for example, on the stronger side). It can have a massive impact and improve the signs of recovery, if used for a significant amount of time such as 6 hours a day. It is a controversial technique but there is strong evidence behind it.



Future Neuro Cafe programme...

Coming soon... a programme outlining future neuro café topics and detailing upcoming speakers.


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