Can a damaged brain change its own structure and replace lost functions?

As a role model for active old age, Stanley Karansky is exemplary. A doctor until he was 70, he retired, got bored, retrained as a GP and practiced for another ten years. At 89 he noticed that his words were becoming less fluent, his driving was deteriorating and he found himself withdrawing. This prompted him, at 90, to begin an auditory memory programme, played on his computer, and he worked on the exercises for 75 minutes, three times a week, for three months.
After six weeks he began to feel more alert, and the motor and social deterioration that he had observed began to reverse. “I was talking to people more and talking came more easily,” he says. “In the past few weeks I think my handwriting has improved.”

It is no coincidence that Karansky is a lifelong self-educator and that when he engages in something, whether it is serious mathematics, Su Doku, or a period of history, he gives it his full attention. This, says the psychiatrist Norman Doidge, is the necessary condition for creating change in the brain.

In his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, Doidge argues that the discovery that thoughts can change the structure and function of our brains - even into old age - is the most important breakthrough in neuroscience in 400 years. His collection of case histories, Karansky among them, is inspiring: people who have had strokes and been declared incurable have been helped to recover, learning disorders have been cured, IQs raised, obsessions and traumas overcome, and there are 80-year-olds whose memories have been restored to the function of people 20 years younger. “There are controlled studies for these things,” says Doidge. “It's a great example of adult plasticity.”

Source - Times