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Neuroplasticity Definition and Benefits

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This paper will present a deeper insight about what neuroplasticity means and the importance it has. More than five published articles and academic journals will be employed to support and analyze the subject of neuroplasticity. These articles and academic journals will provide evidence on the importance neuroplasticity has for people who have suffered a stroke. Also, they will provide supporting information about how neuroplasticity can be stimulated in order to cause a rapid improvement in the regaining and healing process of those areas of the brain damaged due to the stroke causing the patient to lose essential abilities such as speaking, walking or language interpretation. This paper will present an insight on the different alternative treatments that may be employed for the rapid recuperation of the patients.

The Importance of Neuroplasticity on Stroke Patients

There are situations in which the blood flowing in a part of the brain stops, blocking the oxygen flow and causing severe damage to some regions of the brain. Such occurrence is commonly known as a “stroke” or “brain attack”. Usually, people who have experienced a stroke and survived, have remaining effects such as speech difficulties or paralysis of their extremities due to damage to regions of the brain. However, the brain is capable of regaining those lost functions through a process called neuroplasticity which “refers to the capacity of our brains to change in response to experience.” (Coon & Mitterer 2013). “Experimental evidence indicates that plasticity can be altered by several external factors, including pharmacological agents, physical therapy, electrical stimulation, and environmental stimulation.” (Cadman & Hale 2013).

The most common method to promote the stimulation of neuroplasticity is through physical therapy. Patients who have suffered from a stroke undergo a series of repetitive exercises through physical therapy in order to regain those lost movements or abilities.” It is recognized that repeated and frequent participation by patients in active physical therapy programs provide direct influence on the process of functional reorganization in the brain and helps with neurologic recovery.” (Cadman & Hale 2013). Stroke patients who still have an opportunity to relearn those lost abilities are in a situation of use it or lose it, therefore for such motive physical therapy is the commonly used method for the recuperation of those patients.

Now days, there is numerous technologies which assist physical therapy with the recuperation process of stroke patients. “The science of neurologic rehabilitation has been advanced through research on imaging, clinical intervention, and the technological devices at our disposal.”(Studer 2013). The range of technologies created goes from the use of videogames to the use of robots and more. These technological developments have proven to be greatly effective in the improvement of stroke patients among others. The development of new technologies has signified a big step forward to the advancement of physical therapy and a broader range of solutions for the stimulation of neuroplasticity for stroke patients.

However, there are some other treatments which have proven helpful for many years until now. One of those treatments is electrical stimulation which “in patients with motor function impairment of the upper extremity has been employed as one rehabilitative treatment option for many years” (Quandt & Hummel 2014). Electrical stimulation subsequently evokes muscle contractions through the depolarization of peripheral neurons. It means that the electrical currents might be able to stimulate areas in the brain which would lead to the recovery of movement in those stroke patients who have lost it. For such reason electrical stimulation of neuroplasticity has remained useful until present days.

In addition, electrical stimulation has extensive and broader applications. It facilitates plastic changes during the process of recovery, improving voluntary functions after the stimulation. There is also functional electrical stimulation (FES) which “primary goal of neuromuscular FES is to supplement lost functions. In FES muscles are stimulated in a coordinated manner with the objective to provide function.”(Quandt & Hummel 2014). Most stroke patients show weakness in distal muscles which is severe and lacks enough recovery. Therefore electrical stimulation became an optional treatment of interest for patients with great motor deficits in upper extremities. However, compared to other treatments such as common physical therapy, an advantage of electrical stimulation over those has not been identified. “Nonetheless, electrical stimulation should not be abandoned as one potential treatment option in stroke rehabilitation” (Quandt &Hummel).

Alternatively, pharmaceutical agents may not only be employed for the treatment of patients after a stroke but also for its prevention. Strokes result “when a blood clot lodges in the brain and cuts off the blood supply to an area of the brain.” (Phillips 1999). Therefore, as a method of prevention in people with high risk of having strokes they are given anticoagulants. Many anticoagulants such aspirin, which is commonly used, are given for such prevention treatment. Sometimes aspirin is administered in a combination with drugs such as dipyridamole or clopidogrel for a better approach to the prevention of strokes. Also, as an alternative, “other drugs called thrombolytic drugs break up existing blood clots.” (Phillips 1999) offering a new way to prevent strokes. There are varied pharmacological alternatives for stroke prevention which may make the difference for people at high risk of having strokes.

However, there are cases in which strokes cannot be prevented on time and therefore they must be treated afterwards. Just as it may be prevented through the use of pharmacological agents, it may also be treated using pharmaceutical methods as well. Some of those are antidepressants, “neurologists are now starting to use SSRI antidepressants to help the brains of stroke victims recover more quickly.” (Hellerstein 2011). These have appeared to lead to the increasing size of neurons and faster triggering of neuroplasticity. There are some other types of pharmacological agents called “neuroprotective drugs which are given within a few hours of the stroke to minimize damage to the brain.” (Phillips 1999). These and other pharmacological methods have proven to be an effective alternative for the stimulation of neuroplasticity and treatment of stroke patients.

In conclusion, the greatest asset the victims of stroke have at the end is their own brains. Their own brains possess the ability that defines the line between their recoveries or staying in an almost non-functional state. They possess neural tissue that “has an extraordinary capacity to reorganize itself. This functional plasticity of the central nervous system allows for some compensation of lost functions through reorganization of undamaged tissue in brain regions adjacent or contralateral to the lesion site”(Depner, Tziridis, Hess & Schulze 2014). Of course, some treatments such as the ones previously mentioned are required to trigger or accelerate the ability the brain holds to amend for damages. This ability is indeed neuroplasticity and it is the key to the recovery of stroke patients, making it their most important asset as well.

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