Brain Plasticity – change is possible

I just listened to a TED talk by Dr. Lara Boyd (a brain researcher from the University of British Columbia) about brain research and wanted to summarize a few of the main points. I hope it is an encouragement, change is possible even after trauma. She started her talk by describing some of the misconceptions about the brain, the one that Dr. Boyd says is the biggest is that after adolescence the brain does not change. According to the research today nothing could be further from the truth. Research (using MRI’s) has shown that every time you learn something, no matter what your age, your brain changes.

Basic Brain Changes

These changes are 3-fold:

1. Chemical – neurotransmitters can be increased or decreased at any age, this is associated with short term memory
2. Structure – connections between cells can be increased, this is associated with long term memory
3. Changing its function – through learning different areas of the brain can take on different tasks

Dr. Boyd’s research centers on stroke victims and it has shown 2 major lessons that are applicable in all areas that deal with the brain and learning:

1. The primary driver of change in the brain is practice (there is no neuroplasticity drug)
2. There is no one size fits all for learning, each person’s genetics and past affect how long it takes to learn (or relearn) material. Dr. Boyd has found that each person is unique, what recovery techniques best match up with each stroke victim is not the same for everyone.

The Amazing Brain

Her last comment was “I hope you leave today with a new appreciation for how magnificent the brain really is, you and your plastic brain are constantly being shaped by the world around you. Understand that everything you do is changing your brain.”

The more I thought about the work Dr. Boyd is doing with stroke victims the more excited I became with helping traumatized children relearn positive behaviors. At the Family Christian Counseling Center, we are committed to working together with families to reshape the circuitry of the brain. When parents come in with children who have experienced severe developmental trauma; perhaps they were not fed or cared for properly during the first year of their life, we talk about how the brain has formed wrong patterns and that it will take considerable effort to repair this. If you would like to read more about how the Center uses the Neuro-Sequential Model of Therapeutics click on the link. It’s good to know that research gives these parents hope that with repeated responses that are positive and reparative the children can heal.

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