New Year, New Brain

Understanding the Brain’s Ability to Change – at Any Age

By Christina Sevilla; Center Director and Owner of LearningRx- Denver and Centennial
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In some ways, your brain is fragile – prone to damage by even a slight bump against your skull or an untreated infection.

But the flip side of this fascinating “hub” is its amazing ability to rewire and repair itself. Neural signals hitting roadblocks from damaged tissues (such as from a concussion) can be rerouted to an alternative path. Damaged areas of the brain can be trained to function properly once again. And even a healthy brain can be trained to work faster and more effectively. This ability to change at any age is called “neuroplasticity,” and the depth of its potential becomes more understood as medical advances like Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) allow us to actually see the brain at work.

There are plenty of testaments to the brain’s ability to change. Children with severe dyslexia have actually “rewired” their brains after undergoing programs to strengthen auditory processing skills, like phonemic awareness. Teens with ADHD who have undergone cognitive skills training for one or more of the three types of attention have shed their label and gotten off stimulant medication for good. Seniors with age-related cognitive decline have seen incredible results in restoring memory function to delay the onset of dementia. But perhaps most impressive is the miraculous recovery seen in soldiers, athletes and accident victims who have experienced a significant traumatic brain injury.

Take John Keller. In February of 2008, John had decided to sell his motorcycle and was taking it for a farewell ride when he was broadsided by a sedan. He was catapulted 150 feet into the air and landed half a football field away. “I woke up 11 months later and 350 miles away in a rehab center in Houston, Texas,” explains John. “The first thing I noticed was that I was wearing diapers. I had no idea where I was. I certainly didn’t know I’d been in three different hospitals and a nursing home. I didn’t know about the traumatic brain injury or the 14 surgeries, or that I hadn’t walked, talked or eaten for almost a year.”

The day John left the hospital, even the doctors and nursing staff were saying it was a miracle.

Two years after his accident, John’s body was healed, but not his brain. He was functioning at the level of a four-year-old. His family enrolled him in a one-on-one brain training program. John was paired with a personal brain trainer and for an hour a day, five days a week they did intensive, customized brain training exercises to strengthen John’s cognitive skills. It was a long, hard battle, but the results were life changing.

The before and after measurements of his cognitive skills were incredible. His long-term memory jumped from the first percentile to the fifty-first. His visual and auditory processing skills showed even greater improvement. Logic and reasoning improved by 40 percentile points, from the nineteenth to the fifty-ninth percentile. Finally, his processing speed and executive processing speed showed tremendous improvements as well. Best of all, the changes in John’s brain were permanent.

Fast forward to present day. John has done public speaking about his recovery and continues to receive invitations to speak. Chicken Soup for the Soul featured John’s story as a chapter in the book “Boost Your Brain Power.” LearningRx, the brain training company that helped John rewire his brain and recover his cognitive function, chose him as its 2011 Student of the Year. In an effort to give others hope, John visits brain-injured patients, encouraging them and their families not to give up in their journey to get back to “normalcy” because he knows the brain is capable of miracles.

While John’s case is an example of the extreme spectrums of cognitive function, you don’t need to have a traumatic brain injury to see significant improvements from brain training. Kids and adults who go through one-on-one intensive cognitive skills training – including those with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, age-related cognitive decline and math struggles – see dramatic improvements in their lives. Brain training graduates think, learn and remember better, and a faster stronger brain improves performance at school, work and in sports.

Like John Keller, you can put neuroplasticity to work for you. You’re never too old (or young!) to change your brain and create a smarter you!

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