In a previous post, I pondered what caused some people suffering from degenerative brain diseases (such as Alzheimer’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) to suddenly, for short periods of time, regain their lost faculties, and even their ravaged short-term memories. Well now, having read Norman Doidge’s excellent book The Brain that Changes Itself, I believe that I may have an answer.
Doidge’s book discusses the rapidly-growing field of neuroplasticity, the study of how the brain can “re-wire” itself. It’s been shown that stroke patients who are left with minimal muscle control on one side of their body can, over time, re-train their brains, through long and arduous practice, to use that side again. After long hours of daily training, they begin to recover use of their affected limbs. That’s neuroplasticity at work.
Therefore, couldn’t this idea also be applied to the kind of brain damage that results from, say, Alzheimer’s? Over time, as the brain attempts to work around the damage caused by the disease, might it not discover a “hidden pathway” that allows it to function normally, if only for a while? It certainly seems possible. This might also go some way to explain why windows of lucidity are so painfully transient: the damage accumulating from the disease process rapidly wipes out these newfound pathways.
Just food for thought.