Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

One of the most amazing organs in the body is the brain. (Tweet This)

A lot of people think that the functioning of the brain is the most distinguishing human feature. In other words, the way we think is what separates us from the other animals.

Our brain is so amazing that we tend to take it for granted.  It’s only when a problem shows up that we begin to appreciate the enormous amount of processing the goes on the brain.  Chemical imbalances, injuries or diseases focus our attention on those processes that are altered.

Most people are aware of some primary areas of the brain. These include areas for the six senses (see previous blog), and for muscle control. There are also association areas for the senses that provide perception and understanding of the sensory inputs.

When someone gets a stroke or tumor in one of the primary areas, they lose that sense or movement, but when the association areas get damaged, strange  amazing interactions can result.

For instance, damage to the primary visual cortex results in blindness. The person is not able to see images at all. Damage to the association area can cause a person to be blind, but in unusual ways. Certain people are able to look at an object and draw it, but not name it. Others can see the object, recognize the object by touch behind a curtain, but not name it. Others have no problem naming the object but draw some weird scribbles that they say is the object.

One deficit caused a woman to be blind to moving objects. If it was still, she saw it. If it moved, it disappeared to her brain. Her life was like a stop motion movie with snapshots of still objects, but sounds of movement all around her.

Some people have unusual deficits that cause the left side of objects to disappear. They see and draw only the right side of images. If you have them imagine standing on the street, they can remember only the buildings on the right side of the block. If they mentally move to the end of the block and look back, they see only the buildings that are now on the right, the invisible ones from a minute ago.

My mother-in-law suffered a stroke last Thursday (prayers are appreciated). Her deficits appear to be in the language areas of the brain. She has lost several spoken words from her vocabulary. She knows the word she wants to say, but it is not the word that comes out of her mouth. She hears the word from her mouth and knows it is wrong, but can’t make the right word come out. It is very frustrating.

In the late 1970’s, Steve Martin joked about teaching an imaginary son the wrong words, so that when the boy asked to go to the bathroom, it came out “mumble dogface in the banana patch…”

It’s not so funny when it happens in real life. The injured brain connects a different meaning to the spoken word. The patient is confused when others can’t understand the simple request they are making. They are trapped in a world of an unlearnable language. They can get frustrated and angry, lashing out with tantrums or becoming depressed.

Motor control can be affected in strokes or cerebral palsy. People find their body doesn’t respond to their brain. It might be speech  muscles or half the body in strokes, to malfunctions of entire body in cerebral palsy. They are trapped inside a shell that doesn’t function. Their thoughts and feelings are still normal, but the body just doesn’t perform. Again, frustration is the outcome of everyday efforts.

When the interactions of the brain are functioning well, we tend to forget how complex those interactions can be. We take for granted everyday activities such as walking, communicating, and thinking…until the activities go away.

dsb

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David Brooks

Associate Professor of Biology & Nursing at East Texas Baptist University

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