Several of you have asked me about what I offer in terms of a neuroplasticity plan. These are some of the things I think about when I see a patient seeking a brain health and emotional health protocol. I create a daily neuroplasticity plan with patients based upon preferences, personality, motivation and neuropsychological test results.
I suggest that my patients pick 2-3 things to do each day. My simple prescription calls for:
1. Breathwork and Biolateral sounds DAILY in addition to…
2. Two cognitive enhancement skills integrated into the daily routine.
Chronically ill patients often need trauma relief work and limbic safety training (relaxation response). It’s eliciting a safety and comfort response and it has to be practiced each day. This often requires psychotherapy with limbic calming training and trauma release work. See my related blog on trauma release strategies on IleneNaomiRusk.com/latest-research.
Neuroplasticity means that the brain and the whole nervous system are flexible and adaptable and can be repaired or enhanced. Their dynamic adaptability depends upon input from the environment. In our everyday lives we can make choices as to the stimulation, challenge and recovery time we give our minds and our brains. We need all three.
Calm and recovery are just as important as stimulation and novelty. We are looking to create nervous system flexibility and each person who comes to see us already has established nervous system patterns and cognitive patterns. We are born into families with certain behavioural and emotional tendencies, and we develop our own patterns throughout our lives. There’s growing evidence that we inherit patterns from the generations before us and carry ancestral histories of cognitions, fears and proclivities.
Examples of these patterns may appear as:
In order to implement a plan, we must first determine the presence or absence of cognitive deficits. We can determine the patterns of neuropsychological deficits and strengths and weaknesses with data-driven, neuropsychological testing and then use that data to personalize the plan.
I use the following in my personalized neuroplasticity plans:
Education about the brain and nervous system are important and empowering. This reassures the patient that they are in the driver’s seat at all times.
Most patients need vagus nerve and parasympathetic tone training. Trauma release and limbic relief work are often necessary.
We teach patients about emotional intelligence, positive mindset and growth neuroplasticity. It is important to honour our patients fears and pacing. We ask questions about the past but try not to pry into old traumas. See my article on trauma-informed medicine for providers on IleneNaomiRusk.com. We educate people about neuroception or awareness of their nervous system.
Some components of a routinized plan ought to include:
1. Meditation training (personalized). Some mind focused, some breath-work focused concentration exercises to prime the brain for new learning and create greater meaning and sense of belonging to something greater than just oneself. Everyone should be taught paced breath work.
2. Focused attention. Create a routine for one task at a time, in an environment where Cognitive focus and single tasking are emphasized.
3. Determine personalized interests. Determine what the patient is most interested in, as this will encourage maximal interest in new learning.
4. Teach compensatory strategies and involve the caregiver in the implementation of the strategies. Memory notebook calendar, daily routine strategies, etc.
5. Educate patients and caregivers about limit setting strategies. Scheduled rest, data-driven napping, etc.
6. Novelty creates new synaptic connections; each day includes novel physical and cognitive exercises.
7. Movements which engage bilateral movements and the parasympathetic nervous system Yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, etc.
8. Exercise which creates variation and exertion (HIIT, cardio, resistance training—where last repetition is hard). Core, chest, full quad involvement, foot and balance awareness. Compound exercises/metabolic workouts. Slow and low weights with many repetitions.
9. Determine a sense of purpose and passion for both patient and caregiver. Motivational interviewing.
10. Teach interoception skills. Ask: What does your body feel like from the inside? Sensory awareness. Heart rate variability training.
11. Speed of information processing training. Memory training strategies. Errorless learning, Base cognitive neuroplasticity training on test results.
12. Neurofeedback, if available. HeartMath, lasers Veilight, if available and other tools and toys as available.
13. Brain HQ-or any other data-driven online computer training. Make it personalized and help patients find what it is they love and are curious about.
14. Routine is key. Two events scheduled a day. Pair cognitive exercise with physical exercise and mindfulness practices.
15. Increase vagus nerve tone, especially the ventral vagus system which is enhanced with positive social connection. Humming, toning, chanting and gargling. Laughter! Cold water plunges or splashing cold water on the face.
16. Music. Listen to it, learn about it, dance to it and play an instrument.
For us to change our brains and reach toward our optimal health, we have to find meaning and purpose in what we're doing. Be patient with with changing habits as engrained habitual patterns take time to change. Including novelty and challenge (i.e. something that stretches you but doesn't stress you) are really important. As always, make it interesting and fun!
This article is intended to educate you about brain health but please make sure you listen to your own body and consult your licensed health care provider before making any changes to your exercise routine (or doing cold water plunges!) ❄️