There was a fascinating article recently in the WSJ regarding neural implants, a new technology that could help people with a wide variety of neurological problems including seizures, paralysis, strokes, hearing and vision loss. Neural implants can also help relieve chronic pain as well as phantom pain that many amputees experience. These implants can also help amputees learn how to “feel” their prosthetic limbs and move them more efficiently.
This is fantastic news and a huge advancement in the field of neuroscience. The article explains the implants are “attuned to the activity between neurons” and can “listen to your brain activity and then talk directly to your brain”. Again, this is great news, especially for those individuals who are afflicted with conditions that leave them with serious impairments. It’s a miracle.
However, this technology is patterned after another miracle; the physiological miracle of neuroplasticity. Our own nervous system already has the capability to increase neural activity and strengthen neural pathways to improve our level of function on a physical, emotional, cognitive and sensory level. Neuroplasticity was once believed to be available only in the very young, and lost to us after about the age of fourteen. But more recently, neuroscientists have discovered that neuroplasticity, or the inherent malleability of our nervous system (and our brain power) is present during the entire course of our lifetime.
What is the practical application, and what does this mean to you? By making very small and simple changes, we excite different neurons, increase neural activity, and activate new neural pathways. Simply by changing your route to work, shopping at a different grocery store, or using your non-dominant hand to comb your hair will increase your brain power. Notice how a change in routine captures your attention and has a rejuvenating quality to your energy and your interest in your surroundings. To further increase your brain power, learn a new skill, study a foreign language, take a dance class or join a book club.
I believe that the most destructive thing we can do for the health of our brain is to become complacent. The most beneficial thing we can do is exercise our brain, keep it active and keep learning new things. Our brain, just like our body, craves to be challenged. If we don’t use it, we lose it. And wouldn’t it be a tragic shame to let all that power go to waste?