Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to change.  The brain can rewire or reorganize itself by making new connections between brain cells after an injury such as a stroke.  The healthy area of your brain is capable of taking over the functions of the injured part of the brain.  As a result, you can relearn skills that were lost when you initially had the stroke.

Remember that change takes time.  You will need to continuously practice specific tasks in everyday life to improve your skills and rewire your brain.  As the saying goes…use it or lose it!

A good comparison would be this example: 

After her stroke, Rachel had a hard time speaking.  She could say one or two words at a time and would often say the incorrect word.  Rachel worked with the speech-language pathologist to learn ways to express herself more clearly.  She is continuing to practice those skills and is now able to express herself more clearly using short sentences.

I learned that I would have to do a lot of work and my recovery would be as good as I worked at it. I was told to take every opportunity given to me, join every group I was invited to, do my home work every day, etc. I was encouraged to work hard.

Ten things you need to understand about neuroplasticity

1. Use it or lose it: The skills we don’t practice often get worse.

2. Use it and improve it: The skills we practice get better

3. Specificity: We must practice the exact tasks we want to improve.

4. Repetition matters: We must do a task over and over again once we’ve got it right to actually change the brain.

5. Intensity matters: More repetitions in a shorter time are necessary for creating new connections in the brain.

6. Time matters: Neuroplasticity is a process rather than a single event, with windows of opportunity opening for different skills at different times.  In rehabilitation, starting earlier is usually better than starting later.

7. Practice what’s important: To change the brain, the skill we’re practicing must have some meaning, relevance, or importance to us.

8. Age matters: Younger brains tend to change faster than older brains, but improvement is possible at any age.

9. Transfer of skill: Practicing one skill can result in improvement of a related skill.  For example, Practicing going up and down the stairs can help us to manage curbs when crossing the street.

10. Avoid bad habits: Learning an “easier way” of doing something (i.e. a bad habit or compensation) may make it harder to re-learn the proper way.

Adapted from Tactus Therapy