The term neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and form new neural connections throughout a person’s lifetime. To understand this concept, think of your brain as a road map. Every time you think, feel, or do something, a particular road is traveled. Certain roads are traveled more often, and these represent our habits. Each time you think a specific way or complete a specific task, your brain becomes familiar with this route, and it is easier to travel.
If you start to think a new way or develop new habits, new roads are developed, and the former roads are traveled less frequently, or perhaps eliminated entirely. This is what happens when an individual suffers from a stroke. The connections your brain had developed become damaged, so new connections must be created to compensate. Unfortunately, if not created correctly, this can hinder a number of important, everyday functions.
Now, due to advancements in medicine, we know that new developmental techniques can restore brain connections and thus help stroke patients recover. Known as Neuro Developmental Treatment (NDT), this approach focuses on improving motor control by putting the body through regular movement with high repetitions.
How Treatment Works
With NDT, a patient’s physical therapy team will engage the patient in functional tasks to facilitate movement while using precise handling to encourage optimal results.
One particular technology that aids in effective NDT treatment is the AutoAmbulator, a robotics-assisted treadmill that places patients in a standing position and continuously monitors their walking patterns. Based on a patient’s tolerance, therapists can adjust the speed and amount of weight bearing. If an adverse event occurs (for instance, the foot doesn’t strike the treadmill properly), the machine will shut down to minimize injury risk.
Benefits to Patients
With NDT treatment and specific technology like the AutoAmbulator, patients can focus on consistent repetitive movements. This helps them create new neural connections, so that they can restore function without developing ineffective compensation techniques. By focusing on the whole person, treatment can be more efficient and well-rounded.