Seniors-You Can Mold & Optimize Your Brain at Any Age - Contributed by Dr Sandeep Vaishnavi* MD, Phd & Dr Vani Rao** MD, DFAPA, FANPA


Picture of the human brain with the text 'Elevate your Life' and 'The Power of Positive Action;
                                        Canva Design Modified by Blog Owner Santalakshmi

You Can Mold and Optimize your Brain Functioning. That’s because of neuroplasticity of the brain

What is Neuroplasticity? 

Neuroplasticity is the capability of the brain to mold and change.

A long time ago, we believed that the brain is static and unchangeable.

In fact, there is an old saying that old dogs can’t learn new tricks.

But this is wrong.

The brain has plasticity – it is not hardwired and fixed; it is moldable and changeable. It can flex, change, and form new pathways when stimulated.

Old dogs can learn new tricks and so can humans!

Every time we learn something new, the brain changes a little. And if repeated continuously, new pathways can be formed.

This is true for both young and the old. Of course, neuroplasticity is at its peak in the very young, children, and early adulthood, but it does not stop growing and forming new connections.

Even as we age, we can keep our brains healthy and enhance plasticity by staying active and learning new things.

How Does Neuroplasticity Work?

The brain is a unique organ; it is still mysterious, and scientists are continuing to learn more about the brain and how it works.

The brain and the spinal cord are parts of a complex body system called the central nervous system responsible for receiving, processing, and responding to stimuli we receive via our eyes, ears, nose, touch, and taste. The Brain can be considered as the maestro coordinating the orchestra of our body.

A few technalities - The brain is a gelatinous mass of about 3 pounds. The brain’s fundamental operating cell, is the neuron. is surrounded and supported by glial cells. The brain has about 100 billion neurons.

The neurons have long branches (axons) and multiple short branches (dendrites) by which they connect with each other. Neurons communicate with each other across synapses (spaces between the neurons) through electrochemical signals called neurotransmitters; they flow into the synapse when a neuron is electrically stimulated and affects the electric properties of the adjacent neuron. Commonly known transmitters are serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, glutamate, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).  Each neuron receives input from multiple other neurons via its dendrites and transmits messages via its axon. Neurons group together into neural pathways or neural circuits that carry out different functions.  These pathways are made up of multiple networks that are working together in a coordinated way to keep us thinking, feeling moving, and functioning. This as you can imagine is a very simple way to explain the very complex mechanism of the workings of the brain.

New learning has the potential to alter the intensity and the number of connections between neurons, thereby creating new pathways. Scientists believe neurons that ‘fire together, wire together.’ This is the essence of neuroplasticity.

Our daily habits – activities we do regularly - have created strong neural pathways; in other words, they are the well-travelled pathways.

But we can change our old unhealthy habits and practice new healthy habits and form new pathways.

How Can We Enhance Neuroplasticity?

Practicing and repeating activities can help with forming new pathways, also called rewiring.

Helping the Injured Brain Heal - Regions of the brain that are injured by whatever mechanism - stroke, traumatic brain injury, etc. - can be bypassed by other neural pathways taking over, when new strategies are learned and practiced. This is one of the concepts of neuro-rehabilitation.

Enriching our lives with novelty, creativity and healthy tasks can promote neuroplasticity.

Harnessing neuroplasticity can also be done by simple self-care techniques such as:
·       Meditation,
·       Yoga,
·       Physical Exercise,
·       Brain Training via games,
·       Good Diet,
·       Hydration, and
·       Sleep Hygiene. 

For people who have had brain injury of any kind and are struggling with physical and or emotional consequences, neuro-rehabilitation (e.g. physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy), medicines prescribed by doctors with expertise in the field, talk therapies, and even brain stimulation using magnets (when done by physicians with experience/expertise) have the potential to help with the rewiring.

Neuroplasticity works on the principle of “use it or lose it.”  Diligent practice is necessary to form and establish new pathways.

However, it is important to remember that not all neuroplasticity is favorable. For example, we can overlearn unhealthy habits; our negative

feelings and emotions can make us behave in certain ways that are not pleasant or productive. Continuing this unhealthy path can only perpetuate the problem. Either we need to find solutions to break this habit or get professional help to unlearn negative thinking and learn new behaviors.

Ways to Enhance Neuroplasticity

Learning New Things – for example, if you are right-handed, start using your left hand more

Digital Therapeutics – these include video games that have been studied to improve brain functioning; not all video games do this, so it is important to talk to someone well-versed in this field

Structure and Habit Formation – the brain loves structured time and the creation of good habits (such as exercise)

Stress Management Tools – such as yoga and meditation

Rest – including adequate sleep and relaxation time built into your day

 Conclusion: The brain is adaptable, changeable, and malleable, and it has the potential to reorganize itself and form new pathways by new learning, retraining, and repeated activities. 

Enhance neuroplasticity by nourishing your brain with pleasurable, healthy, and stimulating activities!


Sandeep Vaishnavi, MD, Ph.D., is a physician fellowship-trained in Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychiatry and the author of The Traumatized Brain and Healing the Traumatized Brain.

** Dr. Vani Rao, MD, DFAPA, FANPA is a part-time  Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine & a Private Practitioner in Washington DC.

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