How do you view your brain? Do you see it as fully developed and fixed? The human brain is organized into different areas that carry out specific tasks. It has long been accepted that these special areas are predefined and unchangeable and if damage occurs to one of these areas, then that task can no longer be performed. It was also believed that once the brain became fully developed in adulthood, the brain could no longer change or grow.
In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, scientists performing a series of experiments on patients with damage to specific areas of their brain made some unexpected discoveries. From these discoveries they came to believe that the brain was not fixed but adaptable. They also established a series of techniques to bring about profound changes within the brains structure.
A Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. Norman Doidge, began observing these scientific experiments. In his book, ‘ The Brain That changes Itself’, he describes several case histories of people with various brain malfunctions – all of whom have learned to function normally again by carrying out various techniques which he describes in his book.
This approach to viewing the brain and its functions is referred to as ‘neuroplasticity’. Here the brain is viewed as plastic and changeable instead of rigid and fixed. This idea has huge implications for senior people, as it is believed that brain structure and cognitive skills can be improved through appropriate exercise and are capable of change at any age.
Many of us hold the view that learning becomes more difficult as we get older. When we are faced with a new difficult task, we are inclined to give up all too easily assuming that it’s because of our age. We tend to stick to the tasks we are familiar with, keeping away from things that challenge us and this safe familiar behavior then becomes habitual.
Neuroplastic scientists believe that by sticking to difficult challenges and tasks until we have learnt them, we are changing the maps in our brains and creating new pathways. It is believed that the most effective activities are those that distinguish between what one hears, sees and feels and then using this information to achieve goals more and more difficult.
If this is all to be believed, then learning new skills at any age, a musical instrument, a new language or any practical skill, can all help to keep our brains active, growing and changing.
So whatever your age, why not try learning something new and challenging and see what effect it has on the rest of your life.