Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Brains Matter

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association has released a document listing truths about Alzheimer’s disease. I’m familiar with all the truths, and I’ve been sharing them on social media.

The truth I want to focus on today is that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Age is a risk factor and our odds of getting the disease increase as we grow older. Alzheimer’s progressively destroys the brain, relentlessly stripping away reasoning, memory, and personality.

I’ve never really worried too much about my brain as long as it clicks along doing its job efficiently and effectively. Sometimes, I get frustrated when I can’t retrieve an important fact or detail at the time I need the information. At other times, random memories, or thoughts, pop to the forefront, and in my haste to share, I start in the middle of a conversation. It takes awhile for me to realize no one else has a clue as to what I’m talking about, and I need to start at the beginning.

One thing I’ve always noticed is that when I’m stressed, I do not think clearly. While I was reading up on brains this Sunday morning, it became clear that I’m not alone with this problem. Research shows that stress, especially long-term stress or PTSD, affects the white matter of our brains and can cause damage.

Unless white matter does its job unhindered, our brains can’t retrieve all the information stored in our gray matter. The gray matter is where our memories, emotions, speech, and sensory perceptions are stored.

I found a clear example of how white and gray matter work together to make our brain the wondrous organ it is. The gray matter of our brains can be compared to a series of computers and the white matter compared to the network cables that connect the computers together. I found this much more helpful than all the scientific explanations of neurons, glia, and long words that I could never pretend to pronounce.

I’ve always suspected there was a big difference between early onset, or young onset, Alzheimer’s and the effect of the disease on older persons. WebMD had an article that talked about how early onset Alzheimer’s can damage the white matter of the brain and how this damage can be undetected. Early onset affects several parts of the brain and can begin with reasoning, planning, and problem solving, but Alzheimer’s later in life may first be noticed as memory loss.

Research shows that a healthy diet, exercising your body and brain (puzzles, anyone?), and social interaction help keep your brain doing what brains should do. The bottom line is that our brain matter matters!

Copyright © June 2016 by L.S. Fisher
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