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Traumatic Brain Injury, Does Another Part of Your Brain Take Over?

Posted Sep 26 2010 5:39am
By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Rose Lamatt, a subscriber to the Alzheimer’s Reading Room recently posted this question to me in her comments
“I thought when a part of your brain got hurt, shut down so to speak, another part took over. If you know the answer to this, I’d love to know if it’s true. I’ve heard people can have a small part of their brain left, and other areas will take over. True or not?

I didn’t know the answer to Rose’s question, but I posed the question to Dan Daneshvar, the leader of my CTE journal club, and here is his response
While it certainly is possible for your brain to adapt in response to damage, it is much easier when your brain is not fully developed. Once you have a mature brain, the extent to which your neural tissue can adapt (referred to as neural plasticity) is significantly diminished. So, if someone suffers a brain injury early in life, there is more potential for recovery of function.

Whether someone can function with only a small part of their brain remaining, that typically isn't the case. For example, there are cases of individuals having a blockage of the cerebral aqueduct causing swelling of the ventricles. The result is someone who ends up with very little actual cortical matter (picture large empty spaces inside the brain, surrounded by only a few centimeters of brain tissue). The change occurs gradually, but they end up with less brain tissue. In terms of functioning, these people are not completely cognitively normal, but have significantly more ability than would be suggested by the amount of total brain tissue they have. Basically, because the change happened gradually, and throughout development, the brain compensates.

However, if someone has a neural injury later in life, the extent to which their brain can regain the function of the lost tissue is minimal. While there is some recovery of function after, say, a stroke, much of that recovery has to do with resolution of brain swelling. With time and rehabilitation, some additional recovery is possible, but I certainly wouldn't say that person is likely to return to normal after a serious injury.

Daniel H. Daneshvar, MA
M.D./Ph.D. Candidate
Boston University School of Medicine
Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy
Sports Legacy Institute Community Educators | Co-Director
Max Wallack is a student at Boston University Academy. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.




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Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room


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