American Stroke Foundation



Dr. Tiffany Barkley’s presentation on Neuroplasticity. Thank you to The University of Kansas Health System for partnering with the American Stroke Foundation for the Stroke Education Series.

Can Your Brain Change? (0:00-0:45)

The brain was once believed to be hardwired and fixed by the time we became an adult, and the only change that happened to the brain was negative. For example, a stroke. Through years of research, we have found this to not be true. In fact, your brain is constantly changing and adapting throughout your lifetime. Even after a stroke, the brain has the ability to make new connections and adapt after the damage.

What is Neuroplasticity (0:46-10:16)

The term neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change, modify, and adapt. This process can occur three different ways: chemical, structural, and functional. On a chemical level, the signaling between neurons can lead to downstream actions that lead to more actions, resulting in learning. With chemical changes also comes structural changes. Structural changes refers to parts of the brain that physically change due to learning. Lastly, functional changes occur when parts of the brain are used more.

So Why Is Learning So Hard? (10:17-12:36)

The brain is neuroplastic and has the ability to change, so why is learning easier for some individuals and harder for others? Many factors contribute to our ability to learn new information this includes, age, genetics, environmental factors, and underlying structural and functional potential. Neuroplasticity is unique to every individual, and therefore, what works for one person may not work for another.

Post-Stroke Physiology (12:37-13:10)

Immediately after a stroke, the brain begins to preserve brain architecture and function so that further damage cannot occur, healing and development of new signaling takes place, syaptogesis starts to create new functioning where injury has occurred, and some changes are maladaptive and can lead to further injury and brain dysfunction.

Rehabilitation (13:35-36:58)

Many research studies have looked at different treatments to facilitate neuroplasticity, but evidence for these treatments are still ongoing. These treatments include neurotropic factors, pharmacological therapists, biomarkers, stem cells, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, noninvasive brain stimulation, neuro-prosthetics, and acute rehabilitation. Acute rehabilitation is researched and found to be the most important therapy to elicit neuroplasticity. Patients who participate in acute therapy, which includes occupational, physical, and speech therapy, have decreased rates of mortality, decreased rates of hospitalization, higher rates of returning home, and have greater improvements in motor and cognitive functioning.

Neuroplasticity Can Be Negative Too (36:57-37:40)

The brain is unaware of the type of information it is receiving, whether positive or negative. The brain has the ability to learn new information and refine skills, which is the positive side to neuroplasticity. On the opposite side, neuroplasticity can lead to depression, addiction, chronic pain and loss of a skill. The brain is neutral and will adapt to whatever information it receives.

Your Brain Is Dynamic (37:49-39:10)

The brain is a dynamic and complex structure that continues to adapt and modify throughout our lives. Neuroplasticity varies from person to person. This is why some individuals after a stroke may recover faster than others, and that is okay. The key to neuroplasticity is repetition and an individualized learning approach. Remember, there is no magic pill when it comes to neuroplasticity and recovery. Each individual has to facilitate their own learning through hard work and repetition.

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