What Is Brain Plasticity and Why Does It Matter?

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What Is Brain Plasticity and Why Does It Matter?

Neuroplasticity refers to the various neural connections that are created, refined, weakened, or severed as time goes by. These changes to the physical brain result in different abilities. If you start to learn how to play the violin, then each practice session builds new pathways that provide instructions on what to do.

This process is how someone learns a new skill and then begins to refine it.

You can also see changes to your brain plasticity when there is a memory that is more challenging to remember. If you forget someone’s name or try to play the violin after a few years of not practicing, then the connections formed through neuroplasticity become degraded – or you can lose them for good.

How Brain Plasticity Creates Growth or Decline

Science has proven that the human brain isn’t static and that it can adapt to learn new things.

We often think of brain growth with regards to how our physical bodies develop. That means we see it growing and learning the most during childhood or while a young adult.

When adults go through the natural aging process, then it is seen as a time when the brain becomes more forgetful. People get set in their ways. It is the definition of the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

What research shows us about brain plasticity is that these assumptions may not always be accurate. There is power in this process that can still help the adult mind to grow. Although the links that form over time may not happen as quickly or efficiently as they would during the young adult years, you can still tap into this machinery to give your mind a recharge.

If you try to learn something new every day, then you will encourage brain plasticity. Refining the skills you already have will promote this process too.

It is only when you let these skills sit without any attention when the declines can begin to occur. Even if you struggle with illness or a mental disorder, brain plasticity makes it possible for someone to retrain their mind so that it can achieve healthier functionality.

Neuroplasticity and the Five Senses

The brain is the primary coordinator of all our bodily functions.

A person’s senses are closely linked to cognition and memory. That means there is a direct connection to brain plasticity as well. If there is a weakness in any one of these elements, then there will be corresponding declines in all of them.

When someone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease begins to lose their memories as part of their condition, then one of the physical manifestations of that outcome is less food consumption.

People decide to eat less because they don’t see their food as well as they did in their younger years.

As humans age, we grow more distracted and forgetful because the brain doesn’t process information as effectively as it did in the past. That means it doesn’t retain information as readily or clearly, making it more of a challenge to recall that information at a later time.

Immersing your five senses in stimulating activities can help to fight off many of the declines that happen when neuro connections start weakening. It is the same idea as practicing the violin every day versus once per week. Your brain can remain more active, and potentially healthier, when you are willing to give it a good workout session.

What Are the Characteristics of Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity can improve or decline over time which is why it’s important that we keep learning new things so that our brain remains healthy.

There are five defining characteristics of neuroplasticity that are essential to remember when looking at this physical process of the brain.

1. It changes over a person’s lifetime.

Although neuroplasticity occurs throughout an entire life, there are specific changes that are more dominant at each life stage. You’ll learn more information during your childhood, including the ability to speak their first language. Adults can refine skills, pick up new ones, and build upon what they learned in the past.

2. There are several different processes involved in brain plasticity.

The brain uses glial cells, neurons, vascular cells, and other components of the mind to encourage plasticity throughout one’s life. It is not just one process that gets followed for everyone.

3. There are two reasons why it occurs.

Brain plasticity occurs as a result of memory formation, experiences, and learning situations. It can also develop as a result of damage or trauma to the brain. If someone were to suffer a stroke that would limit certain physical functions, the healthy parts of the mind can eventually take over and restore the lost abilities.

4. A person’s environment plays a critical role in the plasticity process.

Your family history can play a significant role in how brain plasticity works for you. The interaction of your genetics and the environment around you will shape your personality and character while it also plays a role in neuroplasticity.

5. Neuroplasticity is not always an improvement.

Changes to the brain are usually seen as an improvement, but there are learned behaviors that people sometimes follow where their physical health is put at risk. The mind can be adversely influenced by psychoactive substances, pathological disorders, or medical processes like chemotherapy. This set of conditions can result in a detrimental effect on the individual.

How to Encourage Brain Plasticity

Learning is a life-long process.

If you want to harness the power of brain plasticity, then the best gift that you can give yourself is a good night of sleep. Getting between 7-9 hours every evening is the typical recommendation for adults.

Then continue to learn. You can pick up a new type of dance, play a different instrument, or try a hobby for the first time. Your brain will benefit from these exercises because stronger neuro networks form.

As a final step, you will want to locate a robust purpose for your learning. If you remain alert and motivated throughout this process, then the focus you have on the task will enhance brain plasticity.