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BOOK BIZ — Celebrating the brain’s amazing ability to change



For many years, the prevailing view in brain science held up three beliefs as staunch truth. First, that once past certain developmental stages, our brains were unable to adapt or grow in any significant way. Next, that when parts of the brain were damaged, either from disease or by accident or injury, that damage was largely permanent. And third, that our brains have discrete boundaries with specific, unalterable sections of the brain dedicated to performing limited, predetermined functions.

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, M.D. demonstrates how far we’ve come from this view in his fascinating book, “The Brain That Changes Itself.” Through his own therapeutic work seeing patients, Doidge became curious about how the brain really behaves and whether or not it’s possible to fundamentally change it. So he set out to interview the pioneers of neuroplasticity, the science behind how, when, and why the brain changes.

» The Brain That Changes Itself By Norman Doidge, M.D. Published by Penguin Books $18.00 softback

» The Brain That Changes Itself
By Norman Doidge, M.D.
Published by Penguin Books
$18.00 softback

Along the way, these scientists, researchers, and doctors introduced him to real people who’ve been helped by neuroplasticity. Some of them suffered devastating and debilitating injuries, like strokes, that affected how their bodies worked, or even amputations that left them with lingering “phantom” pain. Others were children with learning disabilities who’d been written off after traditional treatments failed to help them. Still others were people who’d experienced trauma when young and were trying later in life to deal with it in psychotherapy.

One amazing aspect of this book is the sense of optimism that runs throughout it. While Doidge does a remarkable job of explaining how the science of the brain has evolved throughout history, the personal victories here draw the reader in.

Take the idea of a stroke. As Doidge writes, “Stroke is a sudden, calamitous blow. … The most stricken of its victims end up mere shadows of who they once were, often warehoused in impersonal institutions, trapped in their bodies, fed like babies, unable to care for themselves, move, or speak.” It was once believed that when a stroke happened, modern medicine could not help a victim recover in a significant way, especially once time passed.

We learn about stroke victims here, though, who were able to recover almost all of their pre-stroke functionality. Some of them had even had their strokes years before their treatment. With specific training and help, the brain is able to adapt and build new neural connections around the injured tissue, an idea once thought impossible. It’s encouraging, as are the other stories presented here. This book will leave you feeling hopeful and in awe at what the human brain can accomplish.

— LouAnn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com

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