How exciting that a muscle the size of a head of lettuce is responsible for all your body functions — from eating and sleeping to your heart beating and breathing! Anything that happens to you is recorded and processed through your brain, and it controls all the responses you use.
What happens if that muscle were to begin to wither and weaken? Since your brain is, in essence, – a muscle, if you let it go and don’t keep adding more brain cells (through learning) you will lose it. Even as we age, if we continue to utilize our muscles – through exercise, they may not be as toned and flexible as they once were, but they are still strong.
As long as they have studied the brain scientists are still just beginning to understand how it works. For years they believed that your brain was made up of a number of regions, called lobes, and that each lobe operates independently for different functions:
- The Frontal Lobe is believed to control reasoning, motor skills, and language.
- The Temporal Lobe interprets sounds, what we hear, and the formation of memory.
- The Parietal Lobe processes your senses
- The Occipital Lobe is associated with visual stimulation and interpretation of what you see.
An article in the Journal of Neuroscience (26 January 2011) states that science may have been a little off base in their thinking. According to the study conducted by the University of New South Wales, the brain functions due to a complex network of nerves and not specific regions of the brain as previously thought. In their findings, an integrated grouping of peripheral nerves, the brain, and the spinal cord make up the “information-processing and control system” inside of a human body. It is through this network the body is able to function at its optimum level.
The study was geared toward an aging population. Here a group of 342 healthy people, between the ages of 72-92, underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans while using a new imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). The neurologists were then able to us a mathematical technique, called a graph theory, which allowed them to measure and observe how the nerves connect. The entire process is known as “brain mapping.”
The goal of brain mapping is to allow researchers to see the way the brain processes information, and how the body and brain communicate, allowing a person to feel, react and think. Results from this and related studies will help neurosurgeons and neurobiologists to design treatments of both psychological and psychiatric disorders, including how we age. If they are able to localize areas that are weakened, through the use of brain mapping, they should be able to get to the cause of many degenerative diseases and age-related mental and physical decline.
After the age of 40, research has found that the brain begins to slow down naturally. The slow down affects energy, attention span and memory. The body is more susceptible to stress-related problems, depression, insomnia and sexual vitality — along with a weakened immune system. With the use of brain mapping scientists are able to measure the degrees the body is slowing down and evaluate where problems can be found. Eventually, a program can be designed to return a person to their full potential, at any age, by retraining their nervous system.
In the meantime, research also shows that by stimulating the brain regularly, through the use of memory training techniques, puzzles and brain games, any loss and slow down that may occur in the brain can be held off while new brain cells are produced.
The Anatomy of the Brain: http://psychology.about.com/od/biopsychology/ss/brainstructure_2.htm
Discrete Neuroanatomical Networks Are Associated with Specific Cognitive Abilities in Old Age : The Journal of Neuroscience, 26 January 2011, 31(4):1204–1212; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4085-10.201: http://www.jneurosci.org/search?fulltext=Discrete+Neuroanatomical+Networks+Are+Associated+with+Specific+Cognitive+Abilities+in+Old+Age.+Journal+of+Neuroscience+&submit=yes&x=5&y=11