Neuroplasticity and The Brain After a Stroke

Authors: Rhonda Felice

Hi I am Rhonda.  I am the Stroke Therapy Manager at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital. Those studying rehabilitation are frequently asked questions about the types of therapies that should be included when treating a stroke patient. In neuroscience research, the approaches to improving function after a stroke fall into two major categories:

neuroplasticity therapy options stroke brooks rehabilitationNeuroplasticity refers to the brain’s flexibility to adapt to changes and learn new experiences and the ability for an affected brain to relearn lost behaviors. There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that the brain continuously remodels its neural circuitry in order to encode new experiences and enable behavioral changes.

Some of the factors that researchers have found to be of significance to rehabilitation outcomes are some of the following principles based on their control of neuroplasticity on the brain.

  • Use it or lose it- If you do not work the brain, it is likely going to result in a decline in functionality; the more a person attempts to use the affected extremities, the greater the chance of recovery.
  • Use it and improve it – By training the brain to perform a specific function, it can also result in an improvement of that function.
  • Specificity- The way one is taught, is the way in which he will learn.
  • Repetition matters- To promote relearning in the damaged/stroke brain, high repetition is required.
  • Intensity matters- The rehabilitation training has to be intense for neuroplasticity to occur.
  • Time matters- Research indicates that rehabilitation is much more effective if it is implemented right after the accident than if the same program is started 5 days post-stroke.
  • Salience matters- For plasticity to occur, the task or action has to be important or relevant to the patient for what he has to relearn. Research has shown that when the task is of importance to the patient, there is an increase in the release of acetycholine which helps to stimulate neuroplasticity.   

There is still much that needs to be done to fully understand how the brain works when faced with something like a stroke, however research is pointing us in the direction that the brain is capable of adapting to changes. In order to receive the most effective rehabilitation services, we still have to learn more about neural reactions to the brain affected by a stroke.

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One Response to Neuroplasticity and The Brain After a Stroke

  1. Dean says:

    I’ll ask what should be a simple question. Or at least something I would think researchers should focus on before they prove once again that neuroplasticity works. How exactly does a neuron recruit a next door neuron to help with a task? Does it send out a cry/signal for help? Or are good samaritans running around looking for distressed neurons to help? This answer could also possibly explain why new neurons migrate to the damaged area. If we knew the answer to this the recovery of penumbra and bleed damage areas might be able to be repeatable. Heck we could send magnetic nanoparticles with the appropriate drugs to the damaged areas. If we can find the Higgs boson we can find how neurons call for help.

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