February 22, 2014

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Many of you who know me well are familiar with my recent fascination with the human brain. My interest was sparked a couple of years ago while attending several continuing education classes that were designed and facilitated by Harvard Medical School neurologists. Their research and knowledge was so compelling that I fantasized (for a split second) about applying to medical school. As I more closely familiarized myself with the neurological information presented, I learned that the human brain’s performance peaks at 35 years of age. I clearly missed that opportunity. Truthfully, even at full throttle I doubt that I was ever up to the task, not to mention my tendency to pass out at the first sight of blood in emergency rooms with my children. However, understanding my personal limitations has not squelched my interest; in fact, it has enticed me to learn and share more.

Neuroplasticity refers to the capacity of the brain to change throughout a person’s life, reorganizing itself by forming new connections between neurons. As we learn a new skill or adopt a new habit, our brain responds. Dr. Pascale Michelson, Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes Your Brain, cites plasticity observed in the brains of bilinguals, musicians, and even medical students as they study for their exams. Neuroplasticity happens at the infancy of life, throughout adulthood when something new is learned, and after brain injury to compensate for damaged areas.

By reviewing and reflecting this information to you, I am making and strengthening neuro-connections while creating new neurons. (neurogenesis) What happens to these new connections and neurons is up to me. Our brains reward us with new neurons and pathways when we stretch, learn, and grow; when we dig deeper and commit more, those pathways commit as well. Similarly, under-utilized neurons will be disposed of by a process called synaptic pruning. When several of my friends and I were complaining about a potentially challenging (boring?) new book club selection, one of my dear friends reminded us of our unwritten club’s mission statement: “We will continue to learn and stretch our brains.” Neuroplasticity is a choice and a challenge!

Live Well/Be Well.

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