How does brain recovery take place?

Motor Control Restoration, L.L.C.

Restoring movement after illness, injury, medical condition

Brain “plasticity”

I am often asked how it is possible for brain recovery to take place to re-learn a motor skill after having had an extensive loss of brain tissue as a result of a traumatic brain injury or stroke.   We know, for example, that generally speaking a right-side brain injury affects the left side of the body and vice-versa.  One of the best descriptions of the brain as a living organism is portrayed in the book “The brain that changes itself” by Norman Doidge.  It used to be taught that as one ages the brain becomes more “localized”, less able to re-organize itself with skills and movements attached to specific areas of the brain.  However, there were experiments, largely ignored because they contradicted the prevailing “localization” dogma of the brain, that turned what we knew about the brain on its head.  A neuroscientist rewired the optic nerves of ferrets to the auditory instead of the usual visual cortex.  Not only did the ferrets learn to see but electrodes placed in the auditory cortex showed it was doing the visual processing.  The auditory cortex “reorganized” itself to do the visual processing!    In another study stimulating one point in the motor cortex caused an animal to bend its leg but stimulating the same area at a later time caused it to straighten suggesting there was no set brain map for a given movement.  These and later experiments in brain plasticity have huge implications for brain recovery.  Our actual neuronal structure can be changed by experience.  The processing “maps” that we create are not located at one physical spot on the brain.  The brain is a living, breathing organism literally changing every movement as we acquire new knowledge and experiences.  Experiments with people ages 60 to 87 show that they are able to turn back their memory ability ten or more years by training on an auditory memory program for ten weeks.  What’s more, those that did the training did not show signs of metabolic decline on brain scans typical in people of that age.  Imagining an act involves the same motor and sensory programs that are involved in doing it.  Your brain is physically different when you go to bed from the time you wake up because everything your mind imagines leaves material traces as every thought alters its physical state. The best way to train the older brain is to learn new skills, not just practice old ones. This is the reason why the motor control restoration program is so successful.  Everything is programmed to help the brain’s built in plasticity succeed in forming new motor maps that will allow new functional movements.  The program helps the patient put together a new sequence of muscle firing by tailoring the program on several dimensions such as their age, learning characteristics, motivation level and a host of others.  More information is at


Jeffrey Bolek, Ph.D.            21403 Chagrin Blvd.            Beachwood, Ohio 44122           216 346 5673

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