Sunday, September 26, 2010

brain strain

Ever wondered why you tend to trip on lint? Or why you like bananas? Or why you are good at math but not at grammer? Why are you logical, or why are you extremely emotional? Why can you organize a warehouse but not paint? Well, the answer lies inside your skull. While medicine can cure many illnesses, science is only beginning to understand the miracle of the brain. This week, we have been immersed in the complications of trauma to the brain, and have learned and cried and laughed. Brain injury and mental illness have lifelong ramifications, and lifelong scars.

When Josslin had her brain injury 4 years ago, it went undiagnosed for 7 months. Finally unexplained seizures put her in the hospital up in Bigtown where the cause was not epilepsy but something called conversion syndrome. This happens when the brain is sick or injured and is not being treated, so it causes something to appear to be wrong with the body in order to bring focus on the injury or illness of the brain. It really is an amazing thing to see.

Below is a diagram of the brain with a few of the basic functions. Perhaps it will help you understand a little more. When Joss was hit, she was stopped at a stoplight, and struck from behind by a man traveling at approximately 50 mph. Her brain slid forward and back, as well as side to side inside her skull, causing bruising to all areas of the cortex of her cerebrum. Later, testing would show diffuse injury in all centers of her brain. It also caused the strain and tearing of the neural pathways connecting her hypothalamus and amygdala. Think of it like a story being written without the emotion being expressed. The two sides of her brain were unable to communicate, and so her experience was unable to be processed, resulting in PTSD along with her other brain injuries.

•AMYGDALA: Lying deep in the center of the limbic emotional brain, this powerful structure, the size and shape of an almond, is constantly alert to the needs of basic survival including sex, emotional reactions such as anger and fear. Consequently it inspires aversive cues, such as sweaty palms, and has recently been associated with a range of mental conditions including depression to even autism. It is larger in male brains, often enlarged in the brains of sociopaths and it shrinks in the elderly.

•BRAIN STEM: The part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. The brain stem controls functions basic to the survival of all animals, such as heart rate, breathing, digesting foods, and sleeping. It is the lowest, most primitive area of the human brain.

•CEREBELLUM: Two peach-size mounds of folded tissue located at the top of the brain stem, the cerebellum is the guru of skilled, coordinated movement (e.g., returning a tennis serve or throwing a slider down and in) and is involved in some learning pathways.

•CEREBRUM: This is the largest brain structure in humans and accounts for about two-thirds of the brain’s mass. It is divided into two sides — the left and right hemispheres—that are separated by a deep groove down the center from the back of the brain to the forehead. These two halves are connected by long neuron branches called the corpus callosum which is relatively larger in women’s brains than in men’s. The cerebrum is positioned over and around most other brain structures, and its four lobes are specialized by function but are richly connected. The outer 3 millimeters of “gray matter” is the cerebral cortex which consists of closely packed neurons that control most of our body functions, including the mysterious state of consciousness, the senses, the body’s motor skills, reasoning and language.

•The Frontal Lobe is the most recently-evolved part of the brain and the last to develop in young adulthood. It’s dorso-lateral prefrontal circuit is the brain’s top executive. It organizes responses to complex problems, plans steps to an objective, searches memory for relevant experience, adapts strategies to accommodate new data, guides behavior with verbal skills and houses working memory. Its orbitofrontal circuit manages emotional impulses in socially appropriate ways for productive behaviors including empathy, altruism, interpretation of facial expressions. Stroke in this area typically releases foul language and fatuous behavior patterns.

•The Temporal Lobe controls memory storage area, emotion, hearing, and, on the left side, language.

•The Parietal Lobe receives and processes sensory information from the body including calculating location and speed of objects.

•The Occipital Lobe processes visual data and routes it to other parts of the brain for identification and storage.

•HIPPOCAMPUS: located deep within the brain, it processes new memories for long-term storage. If you didn't have it, you couldn't live in the present, you'd be stuck in the past of old memories. It is among the first functions to falter in Alzheimer's.

•HYPOTHALAMUS: Located at the base of the brain where signals from the brain and the body’s hormonal system interact, the hypothalamus maintains the body’s status quo. It monitors numerous bodily functions such as blood pressure and body temperature, as well as controlling body weight and appetite.

•THALAMUS: Located at the top of the brain stem, the thalamus acts as a two-way relay station, sorting, processing, and directing signals from the spinal cord and mid-brain structures up to the cerebrum, and, conversely, from the cerebrum down the spinal cord to the nervous system.

                                                                           (Thank you!

I was reading an article today about a researcher who has isolated some neural tracts in the brain that are linked to depression. They are the amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and the neural pathways that connect them. There is beginning experimentation with electrical stimulus to those areas via electrodes. They are also working on using fiberoptics instead of electrodes. That article can be found here. Another interesting article is showing that bipolar illness is not psychological, but anatomical.

Another interesting subject is that of traumatic brain injury. TBI used to be defined as mild, moderate or severe according to how long the person was unconcious. It is now becoming clear that the length of time spent unconcious is not necessarily indicative of the amount of damage. Josslin suffers from the aftermath of a "Mild" traumatic brain injury- again, it was classified as mild because she had very little time spent unconcious. However, the brain injury has changed her life, and will continue to affect her quality of life for the rest of mortality. This week we have spent time dealing with the consequences of one man's irresponsible driving.  Not only does she deal with the "physical" problems, but the emotional and intellectual as well. Her accident caused a tendency towards bipolar disorder to be unmasked, which has complicated her life even more.

One of the blessings of this trial has been an increased compassion for those who look or act " different". As we have come to know and understand more about mental illness, we have developed a greater appreciation for the atonement and the sure knowledge that eventually Josslin, Dylan, and Adam will one day be made whole. One day they will be healed. And now, when I look at the homeless, or those that are talking to no one or gesturing to the air, I remember that they are also children of a loving Father, who one day will also be healed. And we will be held accountable for how we treat them  So to my hometown peeps, the next time you see our local homeless man acting a little or a lot different, remember that one day he will be made whole, and it is our responsibility to do what we can.....even if that is only to not point and laugh at him. 

I remember when I was younger, praying that my children would not have any mental handicaps. I knew that I could handle anything except that. Give me chronic illness, physical challenges, financial problems, etc. Just not mental stuff. And now, 22 1/2 years later, all 3 of my kids have mental illness. Heavenly Father knew what I needed to grow and develop in a  way that would let me go back to Him. Now, I struggle watching my kids suffer, and  cry as I watch others treat them like they are "different" and not as good. But I know that they are wonderful strong spirits who have much to offer the world, and that in the end, all the brain strain will be worth it.
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1 comment:

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

I, too, am fascinated with what we are learning with brain research. Life is a miracle. There is no other explanation.

I also feel very grateful that I have had the chance to know all three of your kids. Each one does indeed have much to offer the world, and I'm grateful for how they have made my life better. Thanks for the update and information.