Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Plastic Man

Tom Brokaw made a request. He said I should go to my web browser and type “neuroplasticity.” I was not with him at the time, so I could not tell him that I already did that. In fact, that is why I was listening to him that moment. From Youtube.com, I found one hour's worth of discussion on neuroplasticity, and learned about the current researchers learning about it. Scientists can rock my world, and I plan to include a couple science classes in my studies in addition to my major, because I have an obligation to know, understand, and appreciate the intricacies of this world of continuous exploration

Neuroplasticity refers to the versatility of nerve cells to learn, adapt, and change. Up to recent times we thought this plasticity , this versatility only existed in young brains. People with hydrocephalis were shown to be highly functional despite the loss of enormous parts of their brains. Specifically, a man with sections destroyed that were reserved for eyesight function was shown to see with great acuity. Portions of the brain are determined to have specific function, consistent from one person to another. Yet, when brain tissues are lost in formative years, apparently other portions of the brain take on the functions of the damaged, and impacted areas.

As a non scientist I am interested in knowing how to take these observations, and use them to elevate my hope, start new therapy, and let go of old ideas that when my legs stop working, I ought to start saving for a wheelchair.

When I was in science classes in high school around fifteen years ago (class of 1988? do the math!), I was taught that neurogenesis(creation of nerve cells) was something that came to an end after the formative years stopped. Nerve cells were of a fixed number, and when they died, there would be no replacements. For most of the nerve cells in the body this is still the truth. But, in a few cases, researchers were able to use functional magnetic resonant imaging (FMRI) to show that in parts of the brain, neurogenesis continues on into adulthood.

Still the issue I am thinking about, involves the brain cells remaining, and all the nerve cells they command. I am watching this stuff, do my reading, and listening to podcasts out of pure self-interest. I have symptoms being reviewed by a neurologist right now. My foot is dragging, and that is not a metaphor. My foot drags when I walk, and I am excited to realize I am empowered. What do I do? I listen to a coworker who, with chronic back pain, says he goes to the gym at college every day at six in the morning. He says he is stronger, and healthier than he has I a long time.

One thing he told me was that the six AM crowd is the winner's circle. He works out in the gym with seniors, and he tells me how motivated they are. I also know that the studies Tom Brokaw discussed involved evidence that neurogenesis is most active in people who exercise at least one hour a day. four times a week.

So, today a man walks up to me in a coffee shop, and he tells me about how he had lost massive brain tissue in the right hemisphere of his brain in an accident. He was told that coming out of a coma he would never walk again. Paralyzed from the neck down, he was told he would be confined to a wheelchair for life. Still, this man can and does, walk several miles a day. I am not missing major chunks of my brain, but I still know my improvement is my responsibility.

Today, I am learning how to balance myself. I am learning how to raise my leg. I am learning how to train my mind through exercising my body. So, after weeks in circuit training, I understand what my instructor means when she tells me I will get out of it what I put into it. Old words they are, and still for me they have new significance. My hope today rests on many things. I take muscle relaxants to reduce spasm in my legs. But, I also am now trusting my doctors. I am exercising more. I now see my returns will come from precisely what I discussed weeks ago, the elliptical cross-trainer. My resistance to using the machine comes from it being difficult, being awkward, and being exhausting. My hope comes from knowing that regardless the causes of my problem, this exercise can help.

Thank you for reading.


Momisodes said...

That sounds fascinating. Good for you for tackling this head on, doing your research, and staying positive. I can see the determination and hope through your words.

I'm keeping positive thoughts for you.

katcarneo said...

This is a very informative post, and I read it with squinted eyes as my high school biology classes resurface from the depths of my brain. I can see a lot of positivity in you, and that's great. Those stories you've mentioned are really inspiring, and with your drive, you can overcome this challenge. All the best, Keith!

Nyl said...

Keith, thanks for this very educational entry...i am learning here, really.

I guess everything we do in life is just a matter of discipline. Good luck in your aims for a healthy lifestyle. God bless Keith!:)

bw said...

Nice info. I just signed up to a gym last week and that is after canceling me membership in another gym almost 10 years ago ! And yes, I plan to do my exercise early in the morning, at least 3 times a week :)

haze said...

Mind over matter, I have always believed that one should meet the needs and surmount any obstacles. And what is good with you that you think like an optimist ;)!