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During the previous centuries, scientists accepted the hypothesis that brain had the capacity for adaptation only in infancy and early childhood. A brain considered to be hard-wired and lacking the ability to create new neural connections during the life. If such premises were true, in case any part of the brain of adults was damaged, it would not possible to regenerate it, and this particular brain area would lose the ability to perform its functions forever. The phenomenon of neuroplasticity rejected these presumptions.
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Nudo (2006) defines neuroplasticity as the potential of the brain to adapt its functional and structural organization as a result of life experience. It means that neurons can response to new information received from sensory stimulation and accustom to new challenges in life. The ability of neural cells to form new connections is a principal component of learning and recovering from brain damages. This is how the brain adjusts to environmental conditions; in the same way, it adjusts to a disease or an injury.
Nevertheless, for efficient work of the brain, not only the number of neural cells matters, but also the connections between them. To ensure their presence, synapses, tiny communication links between neurons, are necessary. Neurons form the structure of the nrvous system whereas synapses turn this structure into a system. Then, new connections between neurons are built with the help of axonal sprouting (Liou, 2010). Axons make new pathways from one neural cell to another. Such a process of brain architecture construction starts before the birth and continues in adulthood. At the beginning, simple skills and neural connections are formed, then more complex circuits are constructed.
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Neural plasticity explains how people with brain injuries can go back to their usual lives with time. Brain injuries or diseases may destroy connections and skills created before. In such cases, axons need to cover longer distances than they used to form new pathways. Nonetheless, new connections appear. As a result, in case one of the hemispheres or some area in that hemisphere of the brain is damaged, the other hemisphere or some other area of the brain is able to take charge of some functions of the damaged one. For instance, people with injuries in Broca’s area, which is responsible for speech production, learn how to speak again with the help of the brain area that is responsible for singing.
Neurons make new connections when they are stimulated properly. The stimulation occurs in the process of rehabilitation. It presupposes brain exercises and physical activities designed to deveelop certain skills as well as build particular connections. In some cases, it is necessary to combine such kind of therapy with drugs that increase availability of required hormones. The process of rehabilitation is fragile and must be conducted carefully under professional guidance.
Also, neural plasticity is a two-way process. It means that not only new connections can be formed but also synaptic clusters degenerate if they are no longer in use for a long time. Brain reorganization becomes difficult with aging. The reasons for that have not been yet fully defined. However, conducted experiments prove that the brains of adults and elderly people can be as responsive as the brains of children if they receive proper stimuli. Yet, brain requires training to prevent synapses from weakening.
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The phenomenon of neuroplasticity has not been fully explored yet. Scientists from different spheres, namely neurology, medical science, computer science, physiology, and mathematics, continue working on it. However, the results of their work are even now beneficial to people with brain impairments and diseases. The findings assist such people in leading regular lives or at least lessening the damage to their brains. The proper implication of this brain peculiarity can help people stay in good mental health even in old age.
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