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THE BRAIN

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Neuroplasticity

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The brain is an extremely dynamic organ which is in permanent relation with the environment on the one hand, and psychological factors or the subject’s actions on the other.

The most recent investigations into neurosciences prove that the brain can self-regenerate by means of training and strengthening.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Spanish Nobel prizewinner in Medicine, 1906, proved that neurones communicate with each other through specialized areas of contact, the “synapses” (a word which means the place where one neurone establishes contact with another in order to communicate with it). This discovery allowed us to understand the basic mechanisms which govern the transmission of the information that the nervous system uses.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to form new nerve connections, throughout the whole of its life, in response to new information, to sensory stimulation, to development, and to dysfunction or damage. Neuroplasticity is known as “the renewal of cerebral wiring”.

Let us also remember that neurological development is critical during the first years of life. For example, it was proven that if there was a kitten that was prevented from using one of its eyes for even a short period of time, it would never develop normal vision in that eye.

Elkhonon Goldberg, a neurologist from the University of New York, Director of the Institute of Neuropsychology and cognitive functioning and a disciple of Alexander Luria, explains neuroplasticity in this way:

For many years it was believed that from a certain age the supply of neurones did not renew itself. The most recent scientific researches prove that mental activity modifies the brain and leads us to what we know as “Wisdom”. These latest discoveries can now be classified under the name of neuroplasticity.

In March 2000, researchers at London University, found that taxi-drivers in that city had a part of the brain, the Hippocampus (the important region for spatial awareness), which had developed to a much greater degree compared to the rest of the population.

The taxi-drivers were more highly developed in this area because they exercised it more, memorizing each day streets and routes. In these men and women their ability to memorize streets and routes did not diminish but in fact increased over the years. The brain changes shape according to the areas we use most, and according to our level of mental activity.

In 2002, German scientists came up with the same findings in the Heschl’s Convolution of musicians, the area of the cerebral cortex important for the processing of music.

And, in 2004, the London Institute of Neurology obtained the same results with the left angular convolution (an important cerebral structure for language) in the brains of bilingual people...

Let us recall that:

1. We human beings can create new neurones throughout the whole of our lives.
2. The effort to create new neurones can be increased following mental training
3. The effects are specific: depending on the nature of the mental activity, new neurones multiply with particular intensity within specific areas of the brain.

New neurones come to remain in the areas of the brain that we use most: This is what is known as neuroplasticity. Activity can mould the mind.

Current cutting-edge science supports the statement that intense mental activity plays an essential role in cognitive wellbeing in the more advanced stages of life.

Present research suggests that neuroplasticity can be the key to the development of many new and more effective treatments for brain damage, even if it is the result of traumatic lesions, cerebrovascular accidents (CVA), cognitive age-related deterioration or any sort of degenerative illness (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s...) including cases of cerebral paralysis.

Neuroplasticity not only offers hope to those suffering from cognitive disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, etc. but opens the way to important advances into the treatment of depression, anorexia and other behavioural and emotional disorders.