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THE BRAIN’S ABILITY TO REORGANIZE AND REMAP AFTER AN INJURY OR STROKE

The human brain never ceases to amaze. It’s continually altering its structure, reorganizing functions and connections as a direct result of everything we do, experience, think and believe. This process, referred to as ‘neuroplasticity,’ can go on well into our twilight years if we exercise it regularly.

This process doesn’t stop with brain injury. Harnessing neuroplasticity is an important adaptive mechanism in the ‘life by re-design’ process. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury (and disease) and adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

Usually unexpected, the experience of stroke or brain injury can have long-lasting, far-reaching effects on both survivors and their families. When you find yourself in the position of caregiver for a loved one who has experienced a brain injury, it’s a bit like being strapped onto a rocket and launched to who-knows-where. The one thing you can expect is that you are about to go for the ride of your life, so buckle up. This journey of recovery will not follow a clearly-defined path but it’s going to be an adventure just the same. What kind of adventure is up to you.

The idea of neuroplasticity can really give you the advantage as you both redesign reality. To really get the brain in gear, certain conditions are mandatory. Two of the most important being sustained mental effort through the training of cognitive processes (a.k.a. thinking and pay attention for a period of time) and lots and lots of real life opportunities for practice (that are enjoyable and meaningful).

Create an environment that naturally challenges a person’s capacity for neural change (neuroplasticity) by encouraging that person to get involved. Be an equal partner in a relationship designed to be mentally and physically stimulating, rich in opportunities for social interaction and meaningful connections with others. Adventure and smart risk taking should be as much a part of a daily diet as cognitive process training is.

Avoid things which can harm the brain and reduce cognitive abilities (to think and pay attention) including smoking, stress, sleep deprivation, soft drinks, sedentary lifestyles, excessive alcohol, junk food, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, obesity, loneliness, pessimism and negative self-talk.

There is an abundance of online resources for brain injury advice and support. To get started go to www.brainstreams.ca.