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April 19, 2011 / Mark Kerrigan

So What Do We REALLY Know About the Brain?


 It’s common knowledge that the frontal lobes control most of the higher, executive functions, and that the temporal lobes most often are associated with language. For the most part, assumptions are both true and unquestioned.

When the skull gets knocked around when it is slammed into an immovable object–say a dashboard or cinderblock wall–the effect on the brain can be quite widespread as a result of coup and contra coup.

But what happens when the survivor emerges from a coma and cannot find the words to relay basic wants or needs? What happens to the brain in the following months that enables that person to “relearn” how to communicate with others?

It is widely thought that certain parts of a person’s brain are assigned to perform a specific action and no matter how much we may wish, hope or pray, if that part of the brain is compromised or damaged, there is little to do to compensate for the injury.

However, with something called neuroplasticity our brains can actually learn to do another task other than the one(s) it was originally “supposed” to do.

I’d like to use myself as an example and talk about how I used neuroplasticity to improve on a certain skill. Back in 1993, only about 4 years after my TBI, I took a test with my Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor at the time. The part of the test I remember most was the part on which I did the worst.

I don’t remember what it is called but I was supposed to look at a stiff plastic page that had raised figures, and next to those shapes were various drawings of possibilities of how they would look it were laid out flat. I think that first time I took the test, I scored horribly.

When I took the same test in December of 2010–some 17 years later–I groaned when the VR staff person began to instruct me about this portion of the exam. It had been, for years, my Achilles’ heal, which had left me wounded and bloody from the first time we had done battle–if you will indulge me in the metaphor.

After I had finished the exam, and the evaluator was going over the results with me, I mentioned how badly I hated this specific portion of the exam, and surmised that it would again bring my scores down. To my surprise, the evaluator said that was one portion on which I had done remarkably well.

That’s when it hit me: For yeas, I had been going over these problems in my mind, subconsciously trying to solve them without realizing it. I had trained my brain to work out the problems using different pathways or synapses. Did you get that?

i had trained my brain to work out the problems while creating new and better pathways. Pathways that weren’t there 17 years ago. To help others learn about creating those pathways, please visit http://BrainInjuryTN.org or join our Facebook Group here.

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