What is Neuroplasticity?

Everything we do at RoboFit revolves around one key principle: Neuroplasticity. In this guest blog from our head trainer Kieran O’Brien, he’s going to walk you through exactly what that is and how it works.

So, what is it?

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain and central nervous system to change, reorganise and grow. This can be something as small as a new connection within an individual neural pathway to complete cortical remapping i.e. changes in the structure and function of the brain.

Why is this important?

Neuroplasticity plays an integral role in early childhood development, as the brain is constantly developing and adapting to new information that is being received and learning new skills like crawling, standing and walking. It was originally thought that the plastic nature of the nervous system stopped once adulthood was reached, though this has since been proven to be incorrect.

The implications of this discovery are massive, particularly for those in the community living with conditions and injuries that have impacted the brain and nervous system. It essentially means that the body and its nervous system will never stop learning and can respond to task dependent practice, no matter how complex the task.

Can neuroplasticity be a bad thing?

Sometimes. Unfortunately as humans we are quite good at picking up bad habits which can be described as maladaptive plasticity. Just like our nervous system can facilitate the learning of new tasks and skills through practice, it can just as easily facilitate the learning of bad habits if we repeat them often enough.

What needs to happen for neuroplasticity to occur?

There are several key principles that drive and influence the plasticity of the nervous system, these include, but are not limited to:

  • Use it or lose it: Failure to use specific areas of the brain can lead to the loss of certain abilities 
  • Use it and improve it: Training that involves specific brain function can lead to improvement of abilities 
  • Specificity: Skill acquisition is most likely to occur when it is specific to the functional task. i.e. if you want to improve your ability to walk, you need to practice walking 
  • Repetition: one of the key tenets of plasticity and is essential to form new connections and neural pathways
  • Intensity: skill acquisition is far more likely to occur if the task is challenging. If it’s easy, are you learning anything? 
  • Meaningful: the brain responds best when it is learning an activity that feels important to you. If you’re not engaged, you can bet that the brain won’t be either.

How does RoboFit encourage neuroplasticity?

Our exoskeleton, the Hybrid Assistive Limb, assists the wearer to complete motions that they previously couldn’t do, by reading bioelectric signals sent from the brain and interpreting movement intention. HAL then moves with the wearer (not for the wearer), meaning that it’s conscious for the wearer to complete these motions. This then develops new neural pathways, improving motor function. This is neuroplasticity at work!

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