Last week’s blog introduced you to Neurologist, Dr. Richard C. Senelick. Dr Senelick is Medical Director of RIOSA, The Rehabilitation Institute of San Antonio, and Editor in Chief of HealthSouth Press, in addition to blogging for the Huffington Post. Dr. Senelick is one of the leading experts on neuro-rehabilitation and according to him, it is important to embrace the concept of neural plasticity. We now know that even the adult brain is capable of repairing and rewiring itself after an insult like a stroke or brain injury. The key is intensive rehabilitation.  We’ve talked before about this subject in our Vitality section’s book reviews. In one review, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, author Barbara Strauch says “what we do changes the architecture of our brains…neuroplasticity…it’s the underpinning of everything we now know about the brain.”

We’ve previously reviewed many resources that are available for brain training using software that is designed to retrain the brain and enhance its cognitive functions. In his article published in U.S. Neurology, “Technological Advances in Stroke Rehabilitation–High Tech Marries High Touch,” Dr. Senelick says that a revolution is also happening in neurorehabilitation utilizing robotics, mechanized ambulation, virtual reality, and mental practice. In the wake of the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona, Dr. Senelick says that this tragedy “demonstrates our ability to respond to and treat people with severe traumatic brain injuries, but also the need to provide state of the art rehabilitation to any all survivors of traumatic brain injury”

Remarkable technological advances offer patients opportunities that did not exist even five years ago. And, there are more programs like MonTECH which provide access to assistive technology, tools, resources and support for those with a wide array of disabilities. Equally as intriguing is Ed Boyden’s work as explained in his TED talk on neurons. Check out this 18 minute video for fascinating findings about inserting genes for light-sensitive proteins into brain cells, by doing so he can selectively activate or de-activate specific neurons with fiber-optic implants. With this unprecedented level of control, he’s managed to cure mice of analogs of PTSD and certain forms of blindness. On the horizon: neural prosthetics.

We are only starting the scratch the surface of what is possible. The next decade will see major advances in technology to improve the lives of the disabled.  We as a society need to make the commitment to the disabled community that they will have the same access to medical advances as an able bodied person. Remember, rehabilitation is both “high touch and high-tech,” so we must all be advocates.