I have had in my possession for quite some time a copy of The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. I first picked it up in my beginning days as an undergrad. The remarkable thing was how easy it was to follow. Written for the layman and directed at instilling the wonder of biology.
Now, I’ve picked it up again as a Senior. A little older, hopefully a little wiser. It would seem this turn around I’m beginning to see potential that went unnoticed previously.
The premise of the book revolves around Neuroplasticity, the ability for neurons to change. By itself, this concept is enough to marvel at. Doidge assembles a myriad of research affected by neuroplasticity ranging from the cochlear implant to porn addiction.
The most fascinating piece (IMHO) would be the effectiveness of rehabilitation on late adulthood cognitive decline. Focusing on the work of Dr. Michael Merzenich, he addresses the cognitive problem of “everything is progressively going to hell”. The interesting part is the method in which rehabilitation is carried out. Merzenich and others created the computer Fast ForWord that exercises and sharpens key neural pathways.
In their first study, they compared the results of two groups of children (it becomes relevant to adults in later studies) with learning disabilities. The first group used Fast Forword, while the second used a similar computer game but without training in temporal processing. The first group was able to score higher and maintain test scores longer than those of group two.
From this type of therapy, Merzenich and his colleges saw a bleeding effect into other areas. In fact, visual processing increased with temporal processing despite no intervention directed towards it. When this same type of therapy is applied to adults the same results appear. It would seem the brain has no age limit on growth, even in late adulthood, and the therapies used function similarly.
Overall, this was a good Pop Sci book on a common misconception of the human brain. Use it or lose it still applies, but once it’s gone it still can come back. I would recommend this to anyone for a bit of awesome light reading.