By Megan Wang
A common misconception is that our brains are fixed and cannot be changed after adulthood. However, this notion is actually quite wrong. In the last two decades, there has been a surge of studies exploring the wonder of neuroplasticity. In other words, our brains are still changing to this very day, no matter our age!
What is neuroplasticity?
Despite the word “plastic” in neuroplasticity, this does not mean our brains are plastic! Instead, neuroplasticity is the idea that our brains are able to adapt and change based on our experiences. “Neuro” refers to the neurons in our brain and “plastic” comes from the Greek word “plastikos” which means shapeable.
According to this article by G.M. Innocenti from the University of Lausanne, there are two types of brain plasticity. Afferent plasticity is based on the rerouting of neurons in the brain. This type of plasticity is most common in adult neuroplasticity. On the other hand, efferent plasticity is when the concentration of neurons in a particular area is abnormal compared to the normal amount. This type of plasticity is more common in children and youth whose brains have not yet fully matured.
What impacts neuroplasticity?
The two biggest factors that impact neuroplasticity are age and the environment one is in. Younger brains are typically more malleable as the brain grows and matures. That being said, adults can still experience neuroplasticity to a great extent. For example, in this excerpt from Dr. Michael Merzenich’s book “Soft Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change your Life”, a 48-year-old man named John underwent a speech therapy program to combat his life-long dyslexia. This story is a clear illustration of how adult brains are extremely plastic as well given the proper brain training.
How to improve neuroplasticity
Below are a few ways to improve your neuroplasticity – right now!
- Play a musical instrument – Many studies have shown that learning a musical instrument helps with cognitive reasoning, coordination, as well as improved memory. If you don’t have the time to learn an instrument, listening to music also boosts your brainpower significantly.
- Play video games (but not for too long) – Depending on the type of game, some brain benefits include spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and problem solving, which all help your brain to adapt more quickly and easily to change.
- Learn a new language – According to this study from 2012, learning a new language can increase the amount of grey matter and white matter in your brain. Grey matter is responsible for aspects such as memory and motor skills. White matter is responsible for brain connectivity which will make brain rewiring much faster.
I have also linked Dr. Michael Merzenich’s website here. He has developed a brain training program that helps with neuroplasticity as well as a blog to make neuroscience more accessible to the public.