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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

Learn More

Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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What Is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is the ability for brain cells to adapt and reorganize. Present throughout life, it plays a significant role in recovering from a brain injury, whether it occurs at birth or any age.

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New connections can be made in damaged and undamaged areas, which can take over functions lost due to a traumatic event. In fact, new brain cells can grow as well in certain areas, but glial cells, which support and protect neurons, and vascular tissues, have plasticity as well.

The concept plays a vital role in development, learning, and memory, but also in repairing damage from injuries. However, it doesn’t always work in the individual’s favor. Certain neural pathways can become overstimulated after an injury, and the presence of seizures can complicate matters. Abnormal neural connections can trigger epilepsy and impairments to cognitive and motor functions. Using neuroplasticity to the infant’s advantage requires stimulating the brain in a way that can build useful connections.

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How to Control Neuroplasticity

Although no treatment has emerged to trigger or inhibit neurogenesis, stimulation has been found to be beneficial. For example, a baby with a hearing problem due to a brain injury may make progress if a parent talks and sings to them a lot, or plays music. Those with visual problems can benefit from games and other activities, while massages and stretching can help with motor control.

Neuroplasticity, however, cannot be forced, but there are concepts to consider. The motivation, attentiveness, and alertness of the individual are some of them. Given a baby’s short attention span and periods of wakefulness, potentially more so with a brain injury, the time that neurochemicals are released to trigger changes in the brain can be limited. Sensory and cognitive therapies focus on exposure, which can strengthen connections between neurons. The efforts must be persistent, however, because in the initial stages the changes are temporary, and recorded until the brain considers them to be worth making permanent.

Brain Change and Age

For teenagers with brain injuries and adults with injuries or strokes, recovery can take months, but improvements can occur years later. During infancy, a brain must grow and, if a baby suffers an injury, recover from damage. With learning, the types of changes possible include alterations to a neuron’s internal structure, most notably its synapses, and an increase in the number of these between the cells.

A neuron contains long branches called axons, which transmit information. Other structures called dendrites receive information. There are potentially thousands of branches to a mature neuron, and as they increase the synaptic contacts between the cells become denser. As adults age, synaptic pruning occurs, in which the number of connections decreases. In fact, connections can be made as a person learns or practices something, or lost due to lack of use. Neuroplasticity, therefore, has implications for many aspects of life, including growth, learning, and recovery from a brain injury.