Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity

A stroke, like all neurological disease, can be devastating. Brain, spine or nerve injury is well known to have a lower chance of healing and functional recovery than most other types of illness. The significant effects of a stroke can affect any part of the body or intellect and the range of severity is broad.

There are no medications in common use that can substantially repair the damaged area of the brain once it has been affected by a stroke.

Timely prevention of damage to preserve as much brain tissue as possible is considered the most effective and up to date approach to stroke treatment.

The brain can heal

However, while it certainly is true that brain tissue does not possess the innate ability to repair itself as easily as most other parts of the human body, the widely held general belief that nerve disease, spine injury and brain damage are absolutely incurable problems is not completely true.

Scientists who have studied the nervous system have found evidence to support the relatively new concept of brain repair called neuroplasticity. This means that nerve tissue might be able to regenerate or reorganize itself or acquire different functions. Researchers have found that there is some flexibility and healing ability of the brain, spine and nerves.

What researchers have found is that it is possible that some healthy areas of brain, spine, or nerve can take over functions that were previously controlled by the areas that have been harmed by a stroke or another type of damage to the nervous system.

Some examples of neuroplasticity are seen when children who suffer from brain damage due to stroke at a very early age go on to regain some neurological abilities. Some of these children function better than their brain imaging studies would suggest. It is possible that this recovery occurs when healthy areas of the brain, unaffected by direct damage essentially 'learn' new functions to compensate for the loss of brain function in damaged areas.

 

So far, neuroplasticity is something that has largely been observed, but not controlled. Scientists who study the brain do not yet have the ability to control or direct neuroplasticity to achieve the goals of actual healing or recovery of brain damage after a stroke. Several mysteries and unanswered questions surround the still budding science of neuroplasticity.

One of the big mysteries surrounding neuroplasticity is discovering specifically what types of triggers can potentially be used to help speed up or stimulate neuroplasticity. Some rehabilitative techniques have been recently considered as possible methods to trigger neuroplasticity. Exciting research using computer stimulation, electrical therapy, medical treatments and even music therapy have shown that patients can improve with dedicated new therapies.

The future of stroke care and stroke recovery is more exciting than ever before. Current stroke prevention, treatment, therapy and support have improved tremendously over the past twenty years.

But stroke research and scientific progress still has a long way to go to help patients achieve more practical and functional recovery. Find out whether experimental treatment might be right for you or your loved one.

Neuroplasticity may be useful in the future, but first scientists will have to continue to research ways to understand, control and direct neuroplasticity to make it happen for stroke recovery.

Sources

Brunner IC, Skouen JS, Ersland L, Grüner R, Plasticity and Response to Action Observation: A Longitudinal fMRI Study of Potential Mirror Neurons in Patients With Subacute Stroke, Neurorehabilitation Neural Repair, March 2014

Venna VR, McCullough LD, Role of social factors on cell death, cerebral plasticity and recovery after stroke, Metabolic Brain Disease, April 2014

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