Friday, February 12, 2016

Enriched Environments help recovery after stroke

What is an enriched environment (EE)?

An EE is something that forces you to learn. Forced to learn. You have to be forced to learn. Learning can be forced by everything from curiosity to circumstance. 

In fact, the brain will not learn (change) unless its forced. Why would your brain change if it is comfortable? What if the brain changes while you're comfortable? It may change to the point where you are no longer comfortable. 

And a lack of comfort is icky.

Travel is an EE because it forces you to learn. When you are somewhere other than home you don't know whats around the next corner. You are challenged into something new and different. You are forced by your new (enriched) environment to learn. 

But how can stroke survivors use EE to recover?

Travel is not the only form of EE. Lets take a big driver of EE in humans: Social interaction. Sure, it easier to ignore everyone and hope no one talks to you. Especially after stroke when, according to the research, you're about a million times more likely to "socially isolated." In the long run it may be a heck of a lot more comfortable not to engage whats-his-name (what the heck is his name??) than to engage in conversation. But if you do engage in conversation your brain is in for a hell of a ride

Here is a list of what we think social interaction does for the brain after stroke:

  • Reduces death rate
  • Increases total recovery of functional skills
  • Increases speed of recovery of functional skills
  • Redice risk of risk of developing depression 
  • Increases post-stroke quality of life
  • Increases speed of recovery of walking
But social interaction is not the only (fun!) way to use EE to recover. Here are some other ways:
  • Do something with your hands. The hands are very important to the brain. The hands take up huge swaths of the brain because the hands have so much responsibility. My suggestion? Do something with your hands that you enjoy, even if you have to do it with your "good" side.
  • Exercise is considered an enrichment of environment.

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