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The Brain that Changes Itself

Thursday August 18 at 8 pm on CBC-TV

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The Brain that Changes Itself

Watch the full episode.

43:38 min


Join us as we explore the revolutionary science of "neuroplasticity" - a concept that expands not just our knowledge of how our brains work, but how we use them.

For centuries the human brain has been thought of as incapable of fundamental change. People suffering from neurological defects, brain damage or strokes were usually written-off as hopeless cases. But recent and continuing research into the human brain is radically changing how we look at the potential for neurological recovery.

The human brain, as we are now quickly learning, has a remarkable ability to change itself - in fact, even to rewire itself.

The Brain that Changes Itself, based on the best-selling book by Toronto psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Norman Doidge, presents a strong case for reconsidering how we view the human mind.

Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone and Dr. Norman Doidge

Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone and Dr. Norman Doidge

Dr. Norman Doidge travels across North America to meet some of the pioneering researchers who made revolutionary discoveries about the plasticity of the human brain. He also visits with the people who have been most affected by this research - the patients whose lives have been forever changed - people once thought of as incurable who are now living normal lives.

Known in scientific circles as "neuroplasticity," this radical new approach to the brain provides an incredible way to bring the human brain back to life. Some of the cases that we meet are:

  • Roger Behm, a blind man who is now able to see via his tongue (and can throw a basketball into a garbage can to prove it).
  • Cheryl Schiltz, who was written-off by doctors when she lost her sense of balance due to a drug's side effect. Once sentenced to a lifetime of wobbling, her brain rewired itself through a seemingly simple therapy, and has now regained her balance and returned to a normal life.
  • Michelle Mack, one of the greatest examples of the brain's ability to adapt: she was born, literally, with just half of her brain.
  • Michael Bernstein, who suffered a debilitating stroke in the prime of his life, paralyzing the left side of his body. He's now back to his former life, as his brain functions have been rerouted and re-invigorated.
Michelle Mack and Norman Doidge

Michelle Mack and Norman Doidge

The implications of this research, presented by Dr. Doidge through these compelling stories, are enormous. The impact is just beginning to be felt in research, medical and rehabilitation circles. Simply put, the brain we once thought we knew turns out to be quite different than the one we discover in this documentary: the human brain is a surprisingly resilient and adaptable part of the body.

"What this documentary clearly shows is that we need to re-examine what we think we know about the human brain," explains the film's director/producer, Mike Sheerin. "We see first-hand some remarkable therapies - the stories are almost miraculous - but in every case you're left with the feeling that it's not the science that's amazing. What's amazing is the human brain. This long overdue new approach to the brain will change all of our lives down the road."

The Brain that Changes Itself is directed by Mike Sheerin and is co-written by Dr. Norman Doidge and Mike Sheerin and produced by 90th Parallel Productions Ltd. in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and ARTE France.

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Researchers are discovering that you can teach an old brain new tricks. It seems the organ is more flexible than scientists originally thought. CBC Radio talks with Dr. Norman Doidge, the psychiatrist who wrote The Brain that Changes Itself. Listen to the story online.


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