The Graye Matter Blog

Categories: Minute Medigraytion

A Kindergarten Story To Explain Neural Plasticity

Once there was a little brown bear named Claude. Claude loved honey. Claude loved honey so much that he spent all his days and nights looking for honey. When Claude wasn’t looking for honey, he was imagining the taste of honey and fantasizing about ways to find more honey. When he grew to be a young adult bear Claude made a career out of his obsession with honey by analyzing flower growth and bee flight patterns to find more honey.

After several years working in the honey industry, no matter what else Claude tried to think about, his brain thought only about honey. He had stockpiles of honey; millions of jars of honey stored throughout the forest. Claude had to create elaborate charts to keep track of where his honey was hidden. Ironically, Claude was scared he’d run out of honey, so he’d eat only a teeny bit once a week. He was worried that honey would be all he would have when he was older when he couldn’t forage for honey any longer. It didn’t make any sense. Claude had gone a little crazy.

Claude knew something was wrong. His friends Max, Jake, and Todd had all gotten married. They had raised their cubs and now they were enjoying longer hibernacation with their wives. Claude had tried dating, but something strange happened where Claude was no longer able to see anyone else’s perspective. Instead, his brain looped over and over again as it did with thoughts of honey. Even if he wasn’t thinking about honey, his mind applied the same pattern of analyzing honey to everything about which he thought. Claude was depressed and wasn’t feeling right in his brain or his body, so he went to the doctor. The doctor did an EEG Test to see the electrical activity of Claudes’s neurons. Sadly, the doctor saw only one area firing brightly and just a few other dimly lit areas.

The doctor explained that over time, Claude had fired the same neurons so often that now they were trained to fire without his conscious control. Essentially, the control network Claude had used to focus on finding honey was now out of his control. Not only that, but the doctor explained those neural firings were producing many of the chemicals making Claude depressed, lonely and looping in fear.

The doctor sent him to a specialist called a neuropsychologist. The neuropsychologist helped Claude change his brain patterns slowly over time. They played games where Claude had to move his paws really fast to press flashing buttons without analyzing-just reacting. They did funny eye movement exercises, tapped on their noses and chins, worked crossword puzzles and word searches and played backgammon together. On Fridays, Claude colored with crayons while talking about his feelings. The doctor also told him to read books and take an art therapy class. All these new activities were hard for Claude. He was anxious and struggled to be interested in any of them.

However, if Claude was anything, he was persistent, and he worked as hard to grow new areas of neural activity in his brain as he had worked when he was finding honey. Slowly over a year, Claude stopped thinking about honey as much and quit thinking in looping patterns in general. He was reading on his own and had started to enjoy crosswords, word searches and even liked memory games. Also, Claude was thinking a lot about a sweet bear named Rose he had met in art class. Rose wore bright, cheerful hats that reminded Claude of the shapes and colors game he had played with at the doctor’s office. Rose seemed so curious about life. Her mind was fast as a rabbit and Claude liked this about her.

When it came time for Claude’s annual check-up at the doctor, the EEG report came back, and there was great news. The report showed lots and lots of new pathways of neural firings. Claude’s brain was alive with activity! Claude had used the power of neural plasticity to save his mind…and his body.
That night Claude was so happy; his brain lit up with brilliant ideas, thoughts of the future and love. He raced to Rose’s house and asked her to marry him. She, of course, said, “Yes, HONEY!”

Postscript: Two years after neural plasticity techniques saved Claude’s brain, he and Rose dug up all the honey Claude had stored in the forest and brought them to the city where they donated most of the jars to veteran bears who had fought in the Salmon War.

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