Lifestyle and the Aging Brain
Cortex is a word that translates to mean “bark of a tree”
and refers to the outer covering of your brain. It is one part of
your brain and is responsible for your most complicated thinking
abilities. Your memory, language, personality, intentional motor
skills, spatial ability, and visual perception are all controlled
by your Cortex.
entire brain weighs between 2 and 4 pounds, is made up of nearly
60% fat, and demands 25% of the blood from each heart beat (how
is that for market share!). Millions of brain cells (called neurons)
function in your Cortex to relay information electrically that result
in your ability to think, move, and emote.
Cortex evolved from the back to the front which means the front
part of your brain is the youngest and most sophisticated part of
you. We now believe the Cortex has the ability to generate new brain
cells in the area known as the “Hippocampus”. The Cortex
actually grew over time through its convolutions, grooves, and valleys.
is no greater or more complicated system than the human brain!
Section of Your Brain
Your brain has both an outer shell and a middle (medial or mesial)
part. The inner structures of the brain tend to be older and more
primitive. They are responsible for controlling drives, impulses,
fears, instincts, emotions, reflexes, subconscious processes, and
deeper brain structures are referred to as “Subcortex”
or under the Cortex. While this region of the brain is distinct
from the Cortex, it has multiple connections to and from the Cortex.
This permits a smooth integration of information processing in the
Lobes of the Brain
brain has four distinct regions referred to as “lobes.”
Please note that you have two lobes for each region distributed
in your left and right hemispheres. Each of the lobes is related
to distinct behaviors and regions where overlapping responsibilities
occur are referred to as “association areas.”
Lobe: Your frontal lobe is the youngest and largest region of
your brain sitting just behind your forehead. Your frontal lobe
is a highly complex and specialized region that helps to control
many different and important skills: These include:
Execution of behavior (Frontal Lobe is referred to as Executive
Lobe: Your Temporal Lobe sits just under each temple on the sides
of your head. This is an important region of your brain that helps
with many critical skills including:
and new learning
Your Temporal Lobe is vulnerable to seizures though we do
not know why. There is an actual condition known as Temporal
Lobe Epilepsy to refer to this condition.
Lobe: Your Parietal Lobe sits just above your Temporal Lobe and
behind your Frontal Lobe. Your Parietal Lobe is an example of
“association area” as it serves as a type of meeting
site for multiple inputs from the different lobes. As a result
your Parietal Lobe helps to coordinate complex behaviors that
Short Term Memory
Cross Modal Processing (e.g. listening, writing, reading notes)
Visual perception and discrimination
Occipital Lobe: Your Occipital Lobe sits in the rear of your brain
just under the back of your skull. You actually see, perceive
and differentiate what you see because of your Occipital Lobe.
Vision is such a complex process and the visual pathway is a highly
important one for humans. Your Occipital Lobes helps you with:
Visual Spatial Skill
Brain is divided into two sides or hemispheres (left and right).
Each of the hemispheres is connected by a bridge of white matter
known as the “Corpus Callosum”. This bridge facilitates
communication and information processing between the two hemispheres.
The Corpus Callosum is actually larger in females relative to male
two hemispheres help to coordinate and process different types of
information generally categorized as “Verbal or Non-Verbal.”
While this is not a perfect differentiation you may consider the
hemisphere that processes verbal information primarily as your “Dominant
Hemisphere” and the hemisphere that processes non-verbal information
as “Non-Dominant.” We use the term dominant to highlight
how important language is to your brain and being.
the vast majority of right handed people and many left handed people
have language distributed primarily in their left hemisphere (their
brains are considered “left dominant”). Left handed
persons may have a higher probability of having functions distributed
more equally across the two hemispheres or to have more ambidextrous
brains. This is also true for female brains relative to male brains.
Left handed people who have a parent who is also left handed have
a higher probability of having language distributed in the right
hemisphere (they would be considered “right hemisphere dominant”).
This latter example is rare.
Dominant Hemisphere helps with the following behaviors or skills:
Analysis of information or analytic processing
Attention to detail
Ability to sequence information
Ability to be task oriented
entire western civilization is based around the Dominant Hemisphere.
Consider our architecture typically uses vertical and horizontal
with less emphasis on round or circular patterns. Take a look at
the buildings in our cities. Our curriculum in the classroom is
predominantly verbal and the classroom is typically set up in rows
and columns. It is not uncommon to see neighborhood streets lined
with trees. Signage is typically verbal. These are but a few examples
of our culture’s dependency on the dominant hemisphere.
Your Non-Dominant Hemisphere helps you process stimuli that are
not highly verbal. This includes processing of the following:
Space around you
Emotions, Affect, and “reading between the lines”
Your position relative to others or other things
Depth and Breadth
As noted above female brains tend to be pretty efficient at processing
both types of information while males tend to have more unilateral
dominant or verbal processing brains.
Hippocampus sits in the middle part of each Temporal Lobe and is
a critical part of your being. Your Hippocampus helps you learn
new information and also helps to transition new learning to permanent
storage sites in the Cortex. Your Hippocampus also helps you with
Hippocampus has the ability to generate new brain cells (neurogenesis),
a highly adaptive process. Neurogenesis is likely a result of persistent
exposure to an enriched environment that is provided from five major
2. Mental Stimulation
Research has demonstrated specific activities within each of these
five domains that you can do to promote your brain health. Dr. Nussbaum
has published a Brain Health Lifestyle (see www.paulnussbaum.com)
to help guide you towards your own brain healthy lifestyle.
animals exposed to chronic stress demonstrate structural damage
to their hippocampus with memory problems. Your Hippocampus appears
to have a very sensitive and important relationship to environmental
input. Positive, loving, and stimulating input leads to positive
changes in the Hippocampus. Negative, damaging, and traumatic input
relates to potential structural damage and memory problems in the
Neuron or Brain Cell
brain has millions if not trillions of brain cells with two major
types referred to as Neurons and Glial cells. Glial cells are considered
supportive and nurturing cells that help Neurons function at peak
performance. Neurons are the brain cells that conduct and produce
the emotions, motion, and thoughts on a daily basis. These behaviors
are the result of neurons communicating with other neurons electrically
and chemically. A neurochemical is sometimes referred to as a “neurotransmitter”.
typical Neuron or brain cell is composed of:
1. Cell Body or Soma
The Cell Body contains much of the energy producing and maintenance
duties of the cell. Information travels to the cell body from the
dendrite and away from the cell body with the Axon.
Axon is a long tract insulated with glial cells that takes information
away from the cell body in search of communication with a surrounding
neuron. Interestingly, brain cells never touch each other. They
communicate with each other via a chemical marriage referred to
as a “Synapse.” The more synaptic connections you have
the healthier your brain may be. This is referred to as “Synaptic
Density” that helps to build your “Brain Reserve”
over the course of your lifetime. Having more Brain Reserve is thought
to help your brain delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases
such as Alzheimer’s. (to learn how to build your brain reserve
see Dr. Nussbaum’s new book “Your Brain Health Lifestyle…”).
Dendrites are branch like figures at the end of the cell body opposite
the axon. The dendrite serves to seek information from the environment
pulling it back to the cell body. Research indicates that the human
brain has the potential to generate new brain cells (called “Neurogenesis”)
in the Hippocampus located in the temporal lobe. The Hippocampus
is important for memory and new learning and spatial processing.
It is thought that an enriched environment including novel and complex
stimuli on a daily basis promotes brain health.
little introduction to the basics of Your Brain will help you understand
how brilliant your Brain is and why it is important to care for
your Brain across your lifespan. Brain Health is an ongoing process.
Your goal should be to engage in the novel and complex, enjoy enriched
environments and build up as much Brain Reserve as possible. You
want to preserve your Lifestory!!!
by Visual Anatomy Medical Illustration (www.visualanatomy.com).