Research Proposal: Neuroplasticity This Work Provides a Non-Specialist Scientific

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Neuroplasticity

This work provides a non-specialist scientific explanation of neuroplasticity. The work stresses new research and literature that supports the idea that the neural networks of the body continue to be adaptable as we age, as evidenced by research that supports neuroplasticity in the absence and presence of injury and disease in both children and adults. The work stresses that the major change in neuroplasticity between adults and children is twofold, with one being that children (infants) are more capable of major adaptive neural changes, such as reforming an entire brain area to do the work that an absent or injured primary area would have done while adults rely on more subtle reformulation and two that adult neuroplasticity seems to be lesser due to reduced need to adapt, with regard to lack of environmental exposure cues.

Neural Plasticity as we Age

Neuroplasticity and Aging

Neuroplasticity in general is the ability of the neural networks of the body to reform and change according to the environment, both external and internal to adapt to new needs and behaviors. It was once believed that the human neural networks were fundamentally set at certain developmental stages. (Reilly, Weckerly & Wulfeck, 2004, p. 39) This clearly supported biological claims that children's neural networks are far more plastic than adults, especially with regard to adaptability regarding the manner in which and the areas of the brain that garner language, sight, hearing and other major areas of development. These discoveries of adaptability coupled with the belief that there were discrete end points to how and when children learned certain major behaviors was though to make it impossible for an adult to alter these networks after he or she had reached a certain developmental level. (Reilly, Weckerly & Wulfeck, 2004, p. 40)

More recent research indicates that though Neuroplasticity is fundamentally more active in children and especially very young children and specifically regarding major developmental milestones, such as sight, hearing and language acquisition that Neuroplasticity is to some degree still very active in adults. (Willis, 2008) (Maratsos & Matheny, 1994) (Noelker, Rockwood, Sprott, & Schulz, 2006, p. 73) This then makes adult learning and behavior change possible and some neuroadaptability to exist even after brain or neuro injury or disease. Though adults recovering from neural injury or disease may adapt to do things in an entirely and sometimes unsatisfactory manner relearning is still possible following such events. "Neurons and their synapses are dynamic entities that change from millisecond to millisecond, while simultaneously imbedding information into their fabric.[3]" (Arnstein, 1997, p. 1) it has been in fact postulated that real neural degeneration does not actually occur in people as they age, as was once postulated unless disease or serious depravity is present. (Noelker, Rockwood, Sprott, & Schulz, 2006, p. 203) (Mohr, 2003)

Neuroplasticity provides humans the ability to change their behavior in response to environmental events (stimuli) and underpins their ability to learn and remember. Learning is a process that occurs when organisms take in and store information as a function of experience. The information that is stored as a result of learning is memory. Learning results in neuronal changes at the level of existing synapses and results in the development of new synapses, thereby resulting in behavioral change (Beatty, 2001; Delis & Lucas, 1996). Structural changes are thought to result at the cellular level through changes in effectiveness of existing synapses between cortical cells, through the new formation of synapses among existing cortical neurons, and through the creation of new neurons to support new memory (Schachter, 1996; Squire & Kandel, 1999). (Mohr, 2003, p. 113)

Neuroplasticity is therefore a phenomena that is as active in adults as it is in children and alternating the manner in which we challenge these connections become fundamental to continual adaptation and learning. This is true in the absence or presence of disease or injury to the neural network pathways.

A New View on the Adult Neural Network

Challenging the idea that only children can retrain their brain to adapt to new environments is the fact that neural adaptation and learning occur throughout life, at varied cellular levels. In fact it is likely the fact that children are forming major pathways for certain functioning that leaves them much more vulnerable to permanent catastrophic damage from certain exposures, at very young ages. Toxins such as lead, PCBs, alcohol and even excess or reduced glucose in utero and at very young ages profoundly effects children, where these toxins only minimally affect adults. (Hussain, Gyori, Decaprio & Carpenter, 2000, p. 827) (Becker, 2000, p. 105) (Gauger et al., 2004) (Dingemans et al., 2007) ("The Obese and Diabetic Intrauterine Environment: Long-Term Metabolic or Cardiovascular Consequences in the Offspring," 2005, p. 763) (Schmidt, 2006) (Alm et al., 2006)

Understanding Neural Pathway Preferences

In a very basic sense neural networks in the brain and elsewhere in the neural network have preferred methods or areas where they communicate certain information, yet alternative links and pathways rework themselves to respond to changing needs when they occur. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the neural pathways to create new pathways for information and behavioral cues when such alternatives are necessary. Because children's neural networks are forming major areas of change can occur, where even large areas of the brain or neural networks can be damaged or missing and the individual, with appropriate stimulus can still adapt another area of the neural network to do the work of the missing area of the network. This is very simplistic an explanation, as the essential stimulus and to some degree recognition of added need must be present for restructuring to occur on a large level, with major functions while smaller damage could still create catastrophic behavioral and learning changes centering from a cellular degenerative level. (Krause, 2007)

Adults on the other hand, having already formed the major pathways, as children then are relegated to adapting to major neural loss in a much more difficult manner as the plasticity of underused or alternative areas of the neural net have largely been shut down due to the fact that the major areas of neural preference have up to this point been functioning. "In the past few years, new findings on neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to grow and change throughout life, have led to significant breakthroughs in the treatment of stroke and dyslexia through a process called neural retraining." (Dooley, 2006, p. 405) Neural retraining can be a guided effort by the outside environment to alter the way in which an individual thinks and therefore functions, using external cues, or it can be the more informal processes we all go through daily, even absent of neural injury to rework the ways in which we do things and understand our outside environment.

Neurotransmission, is largely still an emerging science of understanding, but very generally the neural pathways communicate through a variety of chemical and electrical pathways that change and adapt as the need for communication arises. Chemical transmission agents are often referred to as neurotransmitters but there is growing knowledge that supports both specialized and non-specialized neurochemical transmission agents including hormones and other chemicals present and useful by the body for other functions. (Rose, 2005, p. 5) the neural network dictates every aspect of human functioning, from the very basics of breathing to the very complex action of novel high order thought and complicated human behavior.

The manner in which new research views the neural networks is fundamental to the ideologies that are associated with holism. The newer ideas stress that the whole neural network is a highly evolving and plastic area of the body, reworking itself and rewriting code, as a metaphor on a moment by moment basis, as needed for functioning. (McGaugh, Bermudez-Rattoni, & Prado-Alcala, 1995, p. 5)

Neuroplasticity Changes with Age

This is not to say that Neuroplasticity does not change as we age, what most researchers lean toward in this explanation is that stimulus for change and its frequency of exposure is the key factor in keeping the neural networks adaptable. In other words as we age there is a general tendency to reduce the number of exposures to change related stimulus. As the neural networks are formed to a large degree to produce a desired result there seems to be little reason to challenge these formations and come up with a different manner in which to do something. (Gallagher & Rapp, 1997) This alone does not create the variation that causes adults to be seen as less plastic but it does explain why many people subscribe to the idea that "you can't teach and old dog new tricks," when in reality it has been shown over and over that adults can adapt change and rework the manner in which they think and learn on a moment by moment basis the need to do so is not always present in the adult world. (White & Myers, 2001, p. 95)

In other words, as we set about to do our daily tasks, which often mirror… [END OF PREVIEW]

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