Neuroplasticity has changed the old scientific beliefs and revealed a significant truth about the human brain.
Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto and author of the book The Brain That Changes Itself, claims that the belief that the brain remains unchanged has become an embankment in medical research.
“The best neurologists believed that the brain is structured like a complex machine, that each part of it has a function relevant to a particular region. If then, you were born with a damaged area that caused learning difficulties, according to the prevailing theory, you could not do anything to improve the situation. If you were injured or had a stroke, again you could not do anything. The exercises were of no importance because they didn’t produce any results. Furthermore, scientists believed that human nature was as steady and unchanged as the brain from which it came from”
, explains in his book.
The Case of Siltz
Neuroplasticity, however, may not allow the existence of different areas of the brain that are constantly changing but recognizes that if some of them are destroyed, other areas may be trained to undertake their functions, at least in some measure.
The case of Sheryl Siltz demonstrates that plasticity of the brain can change a patient’s life. Her story begins in 1997 when at the age of 39, she undergoes routine surgery and gets a serious infection. To treat it, doctors gave her the antibiotic gentamicin, which in some cases destroys the cells of the inner ear and causes deafness. In her case, however, it destroyed the entire inner ear system that allows us to have a sense of balance. As proven by examinations, only 2% of the function was left.
Thus, the patient always felt that was going to fall down. Indeed, this was often the case. But even when she was lying on the ground, the feeling was not changing. Many times, she felt like a hatch had opened and she was falling into the abyss.
Her doctor invented a genius way to cure her. She wore her a strange helmet with motion sensors, which signaled a metal plate into her mouth. If she came forward, she was feeling a pinch on the edge of her tongue, and when she stepped sideways, a pinch on the side of her tongue.
Recovery of Senses
The first time the device operated, Siltz began to cry. But, she stopped stumbling, she could stand up and slowly her brain learned to change the sense of her tongue into a sense of balance. With the passage of time and after taking lessons, the patient needed less and less the helmet. Her doctor believes her brain has finally adapted to the infinite messages received from the inner ear and recruited other neurons to help regain a sense of balance.
There is Also the Dark Side…
Plasticity of the brain also has a particularly dark side. Dr. Doidge has healed many men who saw their relationships break because of their addiction to porn. These patients spent so many hours looking at porn photos on the Internet, and eventually could not get sex with their partners while some had strange sexual preferences. Doidge believes that in this case some neuroplastic mechanisms have come into operation and unrestricted exposure to pornographic material has changed the men’s brain. Eventually, most of them recovered after they had said goodbye to their computer, forever.
Some psychiatrists believe that cognitive psychotherapy, which helps us to see events in our lives from another perspective, is effective precisely because of the plasticity of the brain.
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In his book, Doidge uses neuroplasticity as a cure for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and permanent anxiety. People should force themselves to do something that pleases them once they feel stressed or worried. Doidge also points out that he is not opposed to medication, but he wonders whether it can be substituted by neuroplasticity. “We can change our brain by using just the senses, the imagination and the hypocrisy. It is an economical way that does not require technological means.”
This article was originally appeared on kathimerini.gr and translated by Visual Meditation.