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'The Brain That Changes Itself' shows amazing ability to adapt

“The Brain That Changes Itself, ” by Norman Doidge. Penguin Books. 427 pp. $16 paperback.
By Jenni Koerner
For the Salisbury Post
Cheryl Schiltz felt like she was perpetually falling. Even after she had fallen, a latch seemed to open below her and the sensation of free-falling continued. As a result of her strange ailment, she suffered from depression, anxiety and could not work.
Cheryl’s vestibular apparatus, the sensory organ that controls our sense of balance, was severely damaged by a routinely prescribed antibiotic for postoperative infection. Her condition was rendered permanent and hopeless. Then she met Paul Bach-y-Rita, a pioneer of neuroplasticity, who helped Cheryl restore her sense of balance by retraining her brain to interpret electrical signals with the help of a device placed on her tongue. Cheryl no longer feels as if she is perpetually falling, and today she lives a normal life.
Cheryl’s recovery is just one fascinating story in Norman Doidge’s, “The Brain That Changes Itself.” The book’s preface introduces “neuroplasticity” or the brain’s ability to rewire itself by forming new neural connections.
For nearly a century, scientists have held fast to the theory that the brain was like a machine, fixed and localized, governed by genetics, and little could be done to reverse damage caused by injury, disease, trauma or sometimes bad habits. The brain, it seemed, could only deteriorate. Recent studies in neuroplasticity, however, suggest the organ is more malleable, capable of regeneration, of healing and even repairing itself.
Doidge deepens the reader’s understanding of neuroplasticity in each chapter by providing case studies that are as compelling as they are remarkable. The reader learns how neuroplastic techniques are helping those who suffer from strokes, learning disabilities, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phantom limb pain and autism. One of the most miraculous case studies is about a woman who was born with only half of her brain, and how it has adapted to these unusual circumstances. But even those who do not suffer from injury or disease can benefit from this book, as it also delves into keeping the brain fit, the power of imagination, slowing down the cognitive aging process, and explaining how we develop behavioral patterns.One might expect such a complex subject to be riddled with technical jargon and academic prose, but Doidge’s writing style is accessible, and the reader, if you will pardon a bad pun, “doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon” to figure it out. Although the subject matter appears at times very serious and even somber, the witty and incisive writing style of Doidge makes it enjoyable and stimulating.
If you’ve ever wondered how television or culture change and shape your thoughts or if you can boost your IQ score, than this book is for you. Your brain will thank you for reading it.
Jenni Koerner is the owner of Laughing Sky Books.

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