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When Your Brain Is In Danger

Consider the higher brain functions, the ones you want to keep in good working order to maintain your quality of life.

Now consider the more common progressive brain illnesses: What are their risk factors and what can you do help prevent and/or slow their progression?

Most Important Higher Brain Functions

Language skills like reading, writing, listening and speaking are crucial for coping with daily life. Employers consistently rank the ability to communicate as the No. 1 characteristic they seek when considering prospective employees. Friends and family members appreciate your language skills, too. These skills allow us to enjoy the most out of life: staying connected to those we care about and interacting each day.

Concentration and attention are also vital mental functions. Staying focused while communicating one of the most important factors in your relationships.

If you can concentrate on a task, you’ll be able to accomplish it. When you are learning new things, they are interesting only if you can focus on them, remember them and discuss them.

Memory is another vital mental function. An erratic memory can be the first sign of dementia, a condition I will discuss shortly in detail.

Visual and spatial skills allow you to properly interpret two- and three-dimensional figures when you see them. Architects and artists must be able to do this well.

Problem-solving, logic and reasoning are your brain’s executive functions. They are necessary for working at a job or professional career. They are also quite important for any close relationship to go smoothly. Common Illnesses Of The Aging Brain

Let’s see how the higher brain functions can be affected by common illnesses of the aging brain.

There are more than 44 different brain and nervous system diseases. Looking at the incidence (new cases each year) of brain disorders in the U.S., some of their totals are:

Alzheimer’s disease: 250,000 Seizures and epilepsy: 135,000 Brain trauma (accidents): 80,000 Parkinson’s disease: 55,000 Of all these, Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s disease are the most common slowly progressive brain illnesses of the aging population. Mood disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety) are not counted as brain illnesses. Stroke is considered an effect of atherosclerosis, so it is not addressed here.

Alzheimer’s Dementia

Mild cognitive impairment is estimated to affect 16 percent to 25 percent of Americans over the age of 65. [1] [2] [3] Along the same continuum is dementia, a permanent mental disorder characterized by progressively poor short-term memory and impaired higher brain functions.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia; but dementia can be a part of other brain illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy and vascular dementia.

Alzheimer’s dementia starts with mild memory loss and progresses until there is an inability to function in normal life due to impaired language skills, reasoning, concentration and personality. Advanced Alzheimer’s patients cannot survive without a caretaker.

What we see under the microscope in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients are plaques and tangles. Plaques are caused by deposits of a sticky protein fragment called beta-amyloid that builds up in the synapses (space between nerve cells), thus blocking cell-to-cell signaling of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This beta-amyloid protein buildup also activates inflammatory immune cells, causing more damage. Tangles are formed by a protein called tau, which builds up inside cells.

Prescription Medications

Much modern medical research has been devoted to discovering ways to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s with synthetic medications. So far, currently available medications are modestly effective. But, unfortunately, their effects are short-lived.

The current Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs for Alzheimer’s disease are the cholinesterase inhibitors Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne. These slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine by blocking the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which dismantles acetylcholine. Unfortunately, these drugs typically help for only six to 12 months (while underlying brain cell damage progresses) and are effective for only about half of the individuals who take them.

Another drug, Namenda, is a newer prescription drug that also doesn’t slow the progress of the underlying disease process. It works by protecting brain cells from the effect of the excessive calcium caused by overstimulation of glutamate (the chemical messenger behind storing, processing and retrieving information) on the NMDA receptor.

The Abnormal Protein Depositions Of Alzheimer’s

Like many of you, I’ve wondered about the most important Alzheimer’s question: “Besides genetics, what could be causing these abnormal proteins to be deposited in the first place?” I’ll look at these in detail in my article next week.

We do know from research published in 2012 that abnormal proteins actually start forming (and are found in the cerebral spinal fluid) of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease 16 years on average before the development of noticeable memory loss or cognitive decline. [4]

We recognize that there is inflammation and oxidative stress that are behind this disease process. Additionally, we know that blood vessel disease (atherosclerosis) in these tissues worsen the disease.

Thankfully, there are natural interventions that can effectively counteract these processes that I’ll discuss in a future article. To feeling good for health. Michael Cutler, M.D. Easy Health Options