How to optimize your recovery after stroke, brain injury, tumor
For a long time, researchers believed that the brain couldn’t change. It was thought that after childhood, the brain pretty much stayed the same throughout life.
However, science has proven this isn’t true. (Go science!)
And while it’s true that brains are more malleable in childhood, they can continue to adapt throughout life. Brains can change. And brains do change.
Brain cells can grow new branches to connect to other cells. They can also strengthen (or weaken) those connections, resulting in new pathways in the brain.
This is true whether you're learning a new skill, or re-learning skills after you have a stroke, brain injury, tumor, or infection.
However, this change takes time. And it requires repeated and specialized training. But if you understand how the brain responds to treatment and makes changes, you can optimize your recovery and create positive changes in your brain!
Here are the 10 principles of neuroplasticity, per research published by Kleim & Jones.
1) Use It or Lose It: Every thought, action, movement, and skill has a specific set of connections in your brain. When you don’t practice something for an extended period of time, the pathways for that task start to weaken, and they get weaker over time.
2) Use It and Improve It: However, if you practice something a lot, these connections can grow and become stronger. With aphasia, this means that the more you talk, listen, read, and write, the better your accuracy and speed will be in these areas.
3) Salience: Emotions can affect the strength of memory consolidation. If therapy is made interesting or important to you (ex: incorporating hobbies or interests), you can more easily remember new skills or pieces of information.
4) Repetition: Repetition of a learned (or re-learned) behavior is required for long-term changes in the brain. You need thousands of repetitions to master a skill. The more time you spend practicing, the better you perform.
5) Intensity: If you do something that doesn’t challenge you, you won’t see much of a difference. Intensity can be the number of times you do an exercise or how difficult it is. Try to find an intensity that is one step above your current level.
6) Specificity: You have to train your brain in very specific ways. Learning something new or re-training an old skill (rather than simply going through the motions of something you already know) helps increase connections in the brain.
7) Age: Our brains are the most flexible and adaptive when we are young. But connections in our brains can grow and change at any age! Effects are generally better in individuals with greater physical and mental activity.
8) Time: If therapy targets changing, increasing, and strengthening the pathways in your brain (using these principles), it should work any time. However, there may be windows of time where progress happens at a faster rate.
9) Transference: Learning in one situation (like therapy) can generalize to other situations (like social settings or the work environment). Similarly, training one specific skill can sometimes activate the pathways of nearby, untrained items and improve those skills as well.
10) Interference: Neuroplasticity means the brain is always learning. But it doesn’t know the difference between good and bad! Maladaptive habits or practicing the wrong things might interfere with the positive changes you want to make.
Yes – brains are adaptable and capable of change after injury. But we have to understand how these changes occur to optimize brain rehabilitation. At Atlas Aphasia Center, we capitalize on the principles of neurobiological recovery to make the most of your aphasia therapy.
Are you a rehab professional? Download our infographic to help explain neuroplasticity. (Or maybe just because you want it 😀)
Interested in our services?
We’re based in Seattle and specialize in speech therapy for aphasia (speaking, understanding, reading, and writing after a stroke or brain injury).