Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new connections. New connections are capable of being formed from birth to death and come about when we learn something new. Our brains are constantly updating information in an effort to help us survive more effectively. Practicing a new behavior, thinking through a problem or experiencing sudden fright causes neurons to extend themselves like branches on a tree. The more we experience, learn and think, the more interconnected the neurons come to be. The result is: new ideas, faster thought processes, better memory and enhanced understanding of concepts.
Some behaviors utilize neural connections that are isolated to small sections of the brain. For example, remembering your email password. It is easily forgotten unless you make it personally relevant. Other behaviors such as singing or playing a musical instrument cause connections to be formed throughout the brain because they connect to feeling, vision, hearing, motor skills and verbal skills and are strengthened by repetition. Accomplished musicians who have suffered strokes have been known to perform complex musical arrangements from memory even though they have lost the ability to speak and care for themselves. This is because musical ability creates extensive interconnected neural pathways. So, it might be like turning on the kitchen light but instead of just the kitchen being lit up, the entire house would be illuminated.
Keeping our brains in a state of plasticity is as important as exercising our muscles, eating healthy and connecting to others. When our brains are engaged in non passive activities, learning, problem solving or interactions with others, neuro-chemicals are released that create a sense of well being.
The Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center has a number of programs that are designed to facilitate a sense of well being. Exercise for Energy, Yoga, Group and Individual Therapy, Biofeedback, Acupuncture, Massage and Art Therapy. Try something new, your brain will thank you.
Lynelle Tyler had a master's degree in School Psychology, wrote comedy, and was a folk singer when she came to Truckee to be a musician. Her (appropriately named for Truckee) band was called the Round-Abouts. She now holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and often uses her musical background to relate to patients.
Reference: Doidge, Norman (2007), The Brain That Changes Itself