Dr. V.S. Gayathri
Neuroplasticity and Learning!
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
“You fill a bucket drop by drop. You clear your mind thought by thought. You heal yourself moment by moment. Today I make one drop, clear one thought, and get present to one moment. And then I do it again.” ― Lisa Wimberger
We often do this to heal ourselves. We erase our earlier thoughts to make way for new thoughts and ideas. We might not be aware, but this happens due to neuroplasticity. It is deeply connected with our learning process as well.
Let us understand more about it.
What is Neuroplasticity?
It is the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural (neurons are the cells that make up our brains) connections throughout life. It allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
The term “neuroplasticity” was first used by Polish neuroscientist Jerzy Konorski in 1948 to describe observed changes in neuronal structure, although it wasn’t widely used until the 1960s.
Neuroplasticity and Learning: Neuroplasticity occurs as a result of learning, experience and memory formation, or as a result of damage to the brain.
In 2001, Neuroplasticity experts Christopher A. Shaw and Jill C. McEachern gave two main perspectives on neuroplasticity:
1. Neuroplasticity is one fundamental process that describes any change in final neural activity or behavioral response, or;
2. Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term for a vast collection of different brain change and adaptation phenomena.
For example, if one hemisphere of the brain is damaged, the other intact hemisphere may take over some of its functions. The brain compensates for damage in effect by reorganizing and forming new connections between intact neurons. In order to reconnect, the neurons need to be stimulated through some regeneration activity.
As per research and belief, there are mainly two main types of neuroplasticity:
Structural neuroplasticity, in which the strength of the connections between the neuron changes.
Functional neuroplasticity, which describes the permanent changes in synapses due to learning and development
Let us take a look at how neuroplasticity works in children.
Neuroplasticity in Kids
Their brains are constantly growing, developing, and changing. Every new experience makes a change in brain structure, function, or both.
Mostly at birth, an infant’s brain has already made about 7,500 connections with other neurons; by the age of 2 years, the brain’s neurons have more than double the number of connections in an average adult brain. These connections are slowly changes as the child grows up and starts forming their own unique patterns and connections.
There are four types of neuroplasticity that are found in children:
1. Adaptive: changes that occur when children practice a special skill and allow the brain to adapt to functional or structural changes in the brain (like injuries);
2. Impaired: changes occur due to genetic disorders;
3. Excessive: the reorganization of new pathways that can cause disability or disorders;
4. Plasticity that makes the brain vulnerable to injury: harmful pathways are formed that make injury more likely or more impactful.
These processes are stronger and more pronounced in young children, allowing them to recover from injury more effectively than most adults. In children, profound cases of neuroplastic growth, recovery, and adaptation can be observed.
Benefits of Neuroplasticity
There are several benefits of brain neuroplasticity. It allows your brain to adapt and change, which helps promote:
Our ability to learn new things
Our existing cognitive capabilities to get enhanced
Recovery from strokes and traumatic brain injuries
Strengthening areas if some functions are lost
Improvements that can promote brain fitness
How to Improve Neuroplasticity
We can always do things or encourage our children to do things that help your brain to adapt and change. Some of the ways that you can improve your neuroplasticity include:
Enriching the environment- Learning environments that offer plenty of opportunities for focused attention, and challenge can stimulate positive changes in the brain. This is particularly important during childhood and adolescence, but enriching your environment can continue to provide brain rewards well into adulthood.
Things you can try include:
Learning a new language or learning a musical instrument
Traveling and exploring new places
Indulging in creative activities like art etc.
Getting plenty of rest- Research shows that sleep plays an important role in the growth in the brain. Dendrites are the growths at the end of neurons that help transmit information from one neuron to the next. Strengthening these connections helps in better neuroplasticity. Sleep always has positive effects on both physical and mental health. So ensure both you and your children improve your sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene.