Neuroplasticity and me

| February 26, 2014

Neuroplasticity is the notion that our brains are not set in concrete, but with training are able to form new neural connections throughout life. Allan Catlin discovered neuroplasticity after a stroke and urges us to pay as much attention to brain fitness as we do to physical fitness.

A stroke some nine years ago left me with various physical and mental deficits, which reduced and then ended my employability. I had lost physical stability to the point that I felt uncomfortable pouring wine at the cellar door which was to become my last job. The disabilities I faced had become my focus and my challenge, but mainstream medicine, acupuncture, physiotherapy and remedial massage were only minor aids, some no help at all. I decided to just do as much as I could handle around my house and garden while I could, a somewhat defeatist attitude I was uncomfortable with but resigned to.

And then a friend came across a book called “The Woman who Changed Her Brain”, by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. Trying to retrain my brain to cover stroke damaged nerve endings had been my aim, and suddenly here was someone who had done it! And she was in worse shape from birth than I was now.

Barbara was born with disabilities and struggled through school with barely average marks, but still persevering. After a huge struggle getting through College in Toronto, Canada, she came upon the work done by a number of scientists on the neuroplasticity of the brain, the notion being that far from our brains being set in concrete after our formative years, they were actually plastic for life. By training aspects of our brain with specific cognitive exercises we could actually create new neurons, which with repeated training join other neurons to become permanent.

Thus Barbara gradually overcame her disabilities and started the Arrowsmith school where she has been taking students with disabilities from the mainstream schools and returning many of them after two or three years where they pick up where they left off, sometimes catching up to their peers!

The book has been an inspiration to me. I have renewed my search for answers, finding more material online, books to read and sites like Smartbrains and Positscience continuing their research and putting it out there for us all. Age is not a limiting factor. “The Smartbrains Guide To Brainfitness” explains the what and the how, and is a book that has focused me to the point that I have changed my daily routine to include neuron building through intensive braintraining.

I am now learning a foreign language online, have downloaded braintraining apps to my phone for intensive daily mind games and I am next looking into meditation. These and more are recommended by current research. My job is to find the deficits in my own brain, which I know include working memory and recall, and concentrate my efforts on those which I believe have improved.

Current research has been largely on the prevention of dementia through brain activities, which is successful in many trials. Neuroplasticity allows us all to improve our personal deficits, whether we are at risk of being affected or not. And it would seem likely that we should pay as much attention to brain fitness as we do to physical fitness throughout our whole lives. I may have left it a bit late, but I don’t doubt that this discovery for me is the best of my life.



  1. M1000

    May 28, 2016 at 2:25 am

    Seeking advice for Neuroplastic rehabilitation- balance
    Hi, I’m sitting in the hospital with my father who is recovering from a head injury after falling over in his room. He has been loosing his balance more and more recently, which I believe is a result of his increasingly sedentary lifestyle and reduced touch sensitivity on the sole of his feet.

    I recall a paragraph in Dr Norman Doidge’s book – ‘the brain that changes itself’ that mentioned how elderly people can suffer from a merging of the brain map on the soles of their feet (from wearing shoes their whole life) which in term reduces their ability to balance.

    I tested this theory on my father, by testing the touch sensitivity and differentiation across the sole of his foot, and found that he was unable to tell the difference when touring his heel vs balls vs toes. He even had phantom sensation (imagining I was touching his foot when I was faking the action).

    The doctor at the hospital suggested this was due to nerve damage, which doesn’t make sense, as my father still has perfect touch sensitivity in the arch of his foot. The doctor did not dismiss my theory, though was not aware of any practitioners that would be able to help with rehabilitation on the basis that this is reversible (ie that the brain is plastic)

    Hence, my question is to ask whether anyone on this forum is aware of practitioners of methods to help ‘retrain my fathers’ brain’ to reclaim the touch sensitivity in his feet and regain his balance? I wonder if this is a similar problem faced by ageing people?