Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to alter as a result of experience. When the brain’s functionality changes, as a result of a neurological condition or injury, the connections between the brain, spinal cord and body are also affected, having a knock on effect on a person’s mobility, balance, motor skills and/or speech. The main goal of intensive neurological rehabilitation is to reconnect those all important neuro pathways and promote neuroplasticity. You may have heard of this before when people refer to it as ‘rewiring the brain’.
As functionalities in the brain can be affected as a result of an experience, behaviours can also be retaught through the use of repetitive rehabilitation techniques. But what should we bear in mind when it comes to working on neuroplasticity? This VIM blog aims to highlight the principles of neuroplasticity.
What Is Important When It Comes To Neuroplasticity?
There are several factors that are identified as important when it comes to facilitating neuroplasticity in the context of a neurological condition or injury.
Kleim and Jones detail the key principles of neuroplasticity and how best to apply them in their paper for the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Having an understanding of these principles helps clinicians and clients to further understand the rehabilitation process when it comes to neurology.
Use it or lose it – This refers to neural connections in the brain. As long as they are being used, they will strengthen. Not engaging these neural connections will lead to a loss of abilities. The aim is to focus on specific brain functions in order to strengthen the set of connections that fire in the brain.
Use it and improve it – The opposite of the first principle. Here we learn that the more we use a specific connection, the more it will improve and strengthen over time. Repetitive training on a specific brain function leads to improving the person’s abilities.
Specificity – Each neuron in our brain is responsible for a specific action or skill. In order to promote neuroplasticity, it’s important that the rehabilitation process focuses on the brain in a specific way. The way in which we train our brains will dictate the nature of the neuroplastic change.
Salience – Salience refers to how meaningful to the person the rehabilitative exercises are. There is a correlation between how meaningful an exercise is and the impact it has on neuroplasticity. Motivation is a huge factor when it comes to promoting neuroplastic changes. This is why intensive rehabilitation is a bespoke and tailored process.
Transference – This refers to the process of ‘generalising’ skills. Some rehabilitative skills that people learn in a therapy clinic can often be transferred into their daily life activities. Neuroplasticity as a result of one experience can often lead to learning skills in another, similar situation.
Interference – The flip side of transference. Improving skills in one area of the brain can interfere with functions in another area. It’s important for clinicians to stay aware of how developing bad habits can get in the way of learning new, good habits.
Time – Reconnecting neuro-connections isn’t black and white. There will be times when recovery seems slow and times when changes are rapid. It’s important to acknowledge that different forms of change happen at different times during the rehabilitation process.
Age – Age plays a huge role in neuro-rehabilitation. As our brains are more plastic (easy to mould and change) as children – the younger we are, the easier it is for external changes to impact our brain functions. Although neuroplasticity is possible at any age, training-induced changes are likely to occur more readily in younger brains.
Repetition – The same with any type of training – if you attend the gym once, you won’t see results. It’s important that for neuroplasticity to be successful, sufficient repetition of rehabilitative exercises is practised.
Intensity – This goes hand in hand with repetition. It is called intensive rehabilitation for a reason. The process of training the brain to learn new skills is intense – but necessary to see results.
Neuroplasticity at VIM
At VIM, our intensive rehabilitation process aims to promote neuroplasticity and allow our clients to regain bodily functions after a brain injury, or if they are living with a neurological condition. Our robotic-assisted therapy approach combines the expertise of our multi-disciplinary team with state of the art equipment to help people along their healthcare journey.
How does VIM do it differently? Our aim is to provide quality neurological and musculoskeletal healthcare services to our clients, with the overarching goal being to nurture their wellness. VIM aims to tackle inequalities in the community through the incorporation of VIM Gym offering a safe, accessible space to exercise for those living with a neurological condition.
If you would like to learn more about how we practice the principles of neuroplasticity here at VIM, get in touch! You can get in touch with a member of our team by calling 01273 037 400 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org