Friday, November 28, 2008

The Brain that Changes Itself

As a kid I wanted to be a doctor. For years, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "A doctor". How I ended up on the radio instead is another post. But I have been fascinated with brains since I was a kid and attended Wilder Penfield Elementary School. Dr. Penfield was the father of modern neurosurgery (I have written a post about him earlier) who pioneered surgical treatment for epilepsy.

In January 1998, I was diagnosed with MS. I couldn't use the right side of my body, tie my shoes, cut my meat. Until feeling started to come back I didn't dare drive as my right foot wasn't dependable. I absorbed everything I could about MS and sparked my interest in neurology (again).
I recovered, though not completely. Every year when I saw my neurologist, he would comment that there was improvement. (At this point in time, I'm at about 97%)

Improvement in my brain? So, was the myelin repairing itself or had my brain rewired how I did certain tasks? Probably the former, but over the past 11 years, there has been a great interest in the latter. The whole science of neurology has to be re-written. The brain is not a machine, hardwired to do what it does. It's more like a lump of play-doh and everything we do and think affects it, leaves an impression, so to speak.

Why is this exciting to me? Or why should it be exciting to anyone? Simply, it means we can change how our brains work.

Dr. Norman Doidge is a neuroscientist, who's written one of the most important books in the field of neurology in the past decade. "The Brain That Changes Itself" should be on your reading list, if you haven't read it already. Last night on the national broadcasting TV station, CBC, a program about his ideas was aired and he was the narrator. (He's also been featured on PBS in the States) A couple of the neuroscientists he interviewed I had already heard of or read their books, so it wasn't all new information to me, but it was still very exciting for me to watch. To see theories put into action gives me hope for rehabilitation of many illnesses or injuries. Including MS.

MS damages the myelin in the CNS. With time and progression of the disease, MS can damage the actual nerves. Until we can stop MS, we'll have to just work with what we've got and maybe rewire our brains. I'm trying.



Denver Refashionista said...

I too am interested in the rewiring process because I felt like my brain rewired during my first exacerbation. On Monday I will go for another MRI. For some reason I think it will look different but not in a bad way...

Diane J Standiford said...

I have believed this about the brain for years, science is catching up with me. I call it paths and we can make new ones every day. I could discuss brains for years.

Shauna said...

DR and Diane,

This really is an amazing field of study. Cognitive Behaviour therapy is based on the idea of changing those neural paths. Now we have proof of physical changes to the brain from various forms of rehab.