Brain plasticity is a process by which the brain reorganizes and rewires neural pathways in response to new experiences, events or even traumatic injuries.
The benefits of brain plasticity are most clearly demonstrated in learning and memory, though they also have a role in our recovery from injury or illness (such as stroke). It’s how we learn to walk and talk as children, it’s how we retain information as we grow older, and it’s the reason many people recover to such an incredible degree after severe injury.
There are two main types of brain plasticity: functional and structural.
Functional neuroplasticity moves functions from damaged parts of the brain to other areas that are not affected. This process can take a few weeks or longer to be fully developed but is one of the most effective ways for brain-injured patients to regain their abilities.
Homologous area adaptation is another form of functional neuroplasticity. This occurs when a specific module in the brain becomes damaged and is moved to the equivalent, or homologous, module in the opposite hemisphere.
Cross-modal reassignment shifts the function of a brain module from one type of sensory information to another. It’s more common in children but can occur in adults if they experience a brain injury and have to rewire their brain to cope with the loss of a certain function.
In addition, the environment can play a role in brain plasticity. Having a positive and stimulating environment can enhance our ability to learn, remember and adapt to new conditions. Moreover, a healthy diet, exercise and good mental health can all help to increase brain plasticity.