The Role of Neuroplasticity in Brain Rehabilitation
You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
Contrary to prior belief, recent research has shown that nervous tissue (including our brain) is able to regenerate. The speed at which the neurons (the type of cell comprising the nervous system) regrows is relative to our age. Our brains are the most plastic (moldable) up until we are two years old. By the time we are teenagers, the majority of the neurons we will have in our life are in place. Although our brain has ultimately stopped growing, it is still able to adapt or remodel when given the proper stimuli. The brain's ability to remodel is referred to as neuroplasticity.
How It Works
Step 1: Identify Nervous System Dysfunction
Now that we know the nervous system can repair itself, we need to know which part of the nervous system is damaged or dysfunctional. Your first visit to the Brain Rehab Clinic begins with a comprehensive neurologic exam. Don't worry, there is no poking, prodding, or scary electronics involved in this exam. Our doctors are specially trained to look for and identify dysfunction in the nervous system by conducting a complete neurologic exam. They will test all of your cranial nerves and look for any discrepancies. They will test your eye movement using specialized equipment, quantify your balance/posture, and examine hand/eye coordination. There is no additional charge for these tests. Most importantly, they will listen attentively to your experiences and ask questions that will help isolate the cause of your symptoms.
Step 2: Stimulate and Engage The Dysfunctional Pathways
Each nerve that is in our body has a specific purpose. Some sense pressure, some sense pain, and others stimulate muscles. As stated above, a neurologic exam will be conducted at your first visit to identify any weakness or dysfunctional pathways. Once identified, an appropriate stimulus can be used to strengthen and rehabilitate the dysfunctional system. In practice, it is very similar to strength training. If you want to build muscle, you lift weights (a stimulus). If you want to rehabilitate a nervous pathway, your provide the appropriate stimulus like vibration, smell, or movement. Your brain can be rehabilitated in a similar fashion. There are 12 cranial nerves that connect to different parts of the brain, each controlling a different part of the body (many of them on your face and head). Providing the appropriate stimulus to each of these nerves can strengthen, rehabilitate, or in some instances reprogram (make new neural connections or repair damaged pathways) your brain.
Step 3: Practice Consistently
You may recall that the process of remodeling your brain takes more time the older you get. That being said, it is important to note that this is not a quick and easy process. Studies have shown that it takes a minimum of 3-4 months of daily practice for your nervous system to make permanent changes. Your treatment plan will outline the exercises you will need to do consistently every day to create lasting change. You don't need to come into our office every day during this time (unless you want to). Many of the exercises and therapies can be done at home. There will be regularly scheduled visits during this period where we will retest the system you are working on to measure progress. Our patients who see the best results are the ones who are diligent and committed to their rehabilitation plan. One patient noted:
"Dr. Hatch provided a way for her to heal, but it was in our hands whether or not it was successful. I refused to fail. I couldn't live watching my daughter suffer for another second."
Step 4: Reevaluate and Compare
Incremental changes can be hard to notice and we want to make sure that you are improving. That is why we reevaluate at the end of your therapy plan with another neurologic exam. We will show you how you compare to your first exam and help you identify any progress that has been made. As your brain changes, your symptoms should change as well. Everyone progresses at a different rate and some individuals will require more therapy to reach their goal. Your progress will be assessed in the exam and you will have the opportunity to modify your treatment plan as needed. If your symptoms are gone and you would like to work on improving your brain's performance, we can tailor a plan that works for you.