The Myelin Sheath
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” –Donald Hebb, neuropsychologist
Neuroplasticity is the mechanism that your brain uses to rewire itself and form new neural connections. When parts of the brain become damaged, those areas are unable to carry out their normal function and to overcome this need to rewire and take over doing some actions or tasks.
Each time you practice something, you strengthen these new neural pathways. The more you practice, the stronger those skills become. Repetitive actions, sometimes called ‘massed practice,’ create strong neural pathways and eventually habits are formed.
In this diagram, you can see circles of tissue surrounding the axon that look similar to tree rings. The more you repeat any learning this sheath thickens stabilising the pathway and helping people to remember what they have been taught or practised.
In many ways, repetition is the ‘king’ of brain injury recovery, helping us to heal in many ways other than just practical ones. Re-learning how to perform a task can bring improved independence, feelings of satisfaction and acknowledgement of progress, all of which are crucial for post-injury self-esteem.
The more accomplishments you make by using repetition, the more you form new habits and, the more patterns you recreate, the more space you have in your brain for thinking and figuring things out.
When the myelin sheath thickens, it allows information to pass along the axon at a faster rate, improving recall and processing speed. So, say, for example, you are learning to tie your shoelaces all over again only doing this once a day will prolong learning and make it harder for the information you need to complete the task to stick. The brain is efficient, and pathways that are not being used repeatedly are repurposed, effectively undoing all your work.
However, if you practice the task a number of times for a set period each day, you will increase the amount of myelin being added, and the brain will purpose that pathway for the task increasing competency and creating a habit or unconscious competence in achieving a job or action.
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