Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge MD

The Brain That Changes Itself:  Stories of Personal Triumph From the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge MD is about how the brain works with a focus on neuroplasticity and how the fundamental ways in which our brain is “wired” can be changed.  For centuries the brain’s being broken down into territories with certain parts doing specific things has been the guiding rule but science, which has been theorizing that perhaps there is another way the brain works, is using technology—like CAT scans—to look beyond the preconceived notions.

When I first started the book, I had an extremely hard time reading beyond a few sentences or a paragraph without breaking into tears.  The first patient discussed is a woman with vertigo; her condition is worse than my own but my empathy was relentless.  It wasn’t until I reached the part where a doctor, Bach-y-Rita, was able to help this woman that I began reading with more haste. 

Then I put the book down altogether because she was cured and I was determined to learn as much as I could about how she was cured and whether or not the doctor was able to develop a tool that would break through whatever nerve damage I have and restore my balance. 

And that is why it took me weeks (no exaggeration) to get through the first chapter because I kept crying and then forgot the book altogether as I was doing research for myself. 

For anyone who is interested in learning how the brain works—the theories behind use it or lose it and neurons that fire together wire together—this book is a great introduction, not so technically overwhelming that the average reader won’t be engaged.  Doidge shares examples from his own practice along with the historical context for what science used to believe and what discoveries are being made the more information we have.

I confess, I had some difficulty reading about the research that was conducted, especially when animals were involved.  If I hadn’t been deeply committed to wanting to read about brain plasticity for myself I wouldn’t have finished some of the book.  Nevertheless, the rest of the content is fascinating.  The truth is, for all I know the reason I pushed through in spite of my disgust and dismay is simply because I wanted to read something that would give me hope that the physical therapy exercises may eventually help.  Little could I know that I would find something that promises a possible cure.  An expensive one but a cure regardless.  Anyone who knows someone who has experienced brain trauma—whether as the result of injury or stroke or anything else—there is information within these pages that will offer possible answers.  If not inspiring, it is at least interesting and a resourceful reader may find a miracle. 

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